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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 June 2006, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Ikea to charge for plastic bags
Ikea's own reusable blue bag
Ikea is cutting the cost of its reusable bags to 25p
Ikea is to become the UK's first major retailer to regularly charge customers for plastic bags, to try and tackle waste and environmental damage.

The Swedish firm will charge shoppers 5p for every bag with immediate effect, rising to 10p in September.

It believes the move - accompanied by a switch to biodegradable bags and lower prices for reusable bags - will cut total bag use by 20 million next year.

The Environment Agency praised the move as a "great example" to other firms.

Environmental price

Retailers are under growing pressure to curb plastic bag giveaways to reduce litter and encourage energy efficiency.

Most of the estimated 17 billion bags given away each year are only used once and then thrown away.

The UK is addicted to plastic bags
Charlie Browne, Ikea

The Irish Republic has levied a 15 cents (10p) charge on plastic bags since 2002, a policy claimed to have reduced usage by 90%.

Discount firms such as Aldi and Lidl already charge for bags in the UK while B&Q have been trialling a scheme.

Ikea is the first major firm to proceed with a fully-fledged scheme, raising the possibility that other High Street firms may follow suit.

However, industry bodies say plastic bags account for just 5% of overall litter and that a compulsory charge would be counter-productive.

"The UK is addicted to plastic bags and we are paying a high price for this in environmental terms," said Charlie Browne, Ikea's environmental manager.

"We want to discourage customers from one-off use of carrier bags and help customers make an environmentally friendly choice."

Lifestyle changes

Ikea - which gave away 32 million bags in 2005 - said it had conducted a successful two-year charging trial in Edinburgh, which had led to a 90% drop in consumption.

"This may prove controversial with some customers but we really hope people will stick with us and realise that we are doing this to try and help the environment," Mr Browne added.

Ikea emphasised that it would not make any money from the move since all the proceeds would be donated to the environmental organisation Community Forests.

The Environment Agency said small lifestyle changes such as use of biodegradable bags could make a huge difference to the environment.

"If everyone in the UK stopped using plastic bags and switched to a reusable bag, we would save enough plastic bags to tie around the earth 103 times," said its chairman Sir John Harman.

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