Consumers face paying a levy on single use carrier bags within months under Government plans to stop shops giving them away.
In a move that could see shoppers paying up to 10 pence a bag, legislation is planned to ensure shops no longer hand out single use carrier bags.
Speaking at a Waste & Resources Action Programme press conference on Courtauld Commitment achievements, Environment Minister Joan Ruddock said that she hoped supermarkets would follow the example set by Marks & Spencer which reduced plastic bag usage by 80%.
She said: We hope there will be a voluntary agreement but the Climate Change Bill is likely to receive Royal Assent in the autumn which will include mandatory charging for plastic bags. These single-use carrier bags are becoming a thing of the past and things have moved on even since the voluntary agreement.
Ruddock said that the Government would impose the charges if it is not done voluntarily.
Marks & Spencer is the only big supermarket chain to introduce a plastic bag charge. Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda have refused to implement a charge.
In February 2007, retailers voluntarily committed to reduce the environmental impact of plastic bags by 25% by the end of 2008. WRAP has said that retailers are half way to meeting this target.
British Retail Consortium spokesman Richard Dodd said: It is wrong for the Government to renegotiate back on the terms of the agreement before the period has run out. It would be wrong to introduce a national one size fits all approach.
Retailers should be left alone to make decisions based on their knowledge of their own customers.
He added that some retailers would prefer to take the incentive approach rather than clobbering them with charges. Dodd also said that others believed charging was the way to go.