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Government breaks bag promise, says retailer

Sainsburys has accused the Government of breaking its promise to work with retailers to reduce the environmental impact of plastic bags by the end of 2008.

Speaking on BBC2 programme Newsnight Sainsburys chief executive Justin King said the Government ignored the agreement reached with industry, as has happened recently on the debate with plastic bags.

Last year UK retailers and the Government agreed to reduce the overall environmental impact of carrier bags by 25% by the end of 2008. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) agreed to support the campaign.

King accused the Government of chasing headlines after Chancellor Alistair Darling threatened to introduce a plastic bag levy if retailers fail to take voluntary action to eliminate single use carrier bags.

King said: We had an agreement in the first place that was being delivered. WRAPs own words were that we were in a position that we were on track but more could be done. It seems to be at the very least that the agreement should have been allowed to run its time through to December this year before we decided what the next step should be.

In response to his claims Minister for Environment Joan Ruddock said the agreement had been allowed to run its course. We have said that we are going to have a meeting with all of those involved in the bags agreement and we would then make it clear what kind of progress we need to seek. We will be only taking action if that progress cannot be made at the level that we now think is necessary.

Kings remarks come as Sainsburys has just pledged to halve the amount of plastic bags its customers use by April 2009. He added the Government should focus on providing a consistent approach to types of plastic that can be recycled throughout the country and ensuring that recycling takes place in the UK.

The BRC agreed with Kings assertion that the Government had broken its promise. A spokesman said: It is entirely wrong to agree a target and then half way through a period move the goalpost and set a different target. If they [retailers] havent reached their target by the end of December 2008 then alternative measures can be discussed.

It is premature to be talking about legislation at the moment. It is up to retailers to decide what right approach they should take to achieve this commitment. No one size fits all.

A WRAP spokeswoman added: There are still a number of months left to the end of the year. A good start has been made and there is more to do. The plastic bag levy is still being discussed and we will be watching and listening to see what comes out of it.

Asda said it agreed very strongly with Sainsbury's.  We believe with the new measurements in place, we'll be able to exceed our commitment by the end of the year, a spokesman said.

Image: Sainsbury's CEO Justin King

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