If achieved, the move which is a joint initiative involving representatives from all areas of the sector could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 58,500 tonnes per annum. This is the equivalent to taking 18,000 cars off the road for a year.
Local environment minister Ben Bradshaw said: This is an ambitious but very practical agreement and we are pleased that the retailers have agreed to work with us and UK consumers in such a positive way.
Consumers are increasingly aware that they can make positive choices to help the environment in the way we shop. By signing up to this statement, the UKs retailers have also committed to help their customers to reduce, reuse and recycle their carrier bags.
Flexibility is given to allow individual retailers to respond to the agreement in ways that are best suited to their customers and type of trading and recognises that a number are already addressing the issue through a variety of approaches.
Tools to be incorporated will include encouraging consumers to reduce significantly the number of bags they use, to use less material or incorporate recycled material into these and enable the recycling of more carrier bags where appropriate.
British Retail Consortium director of environmental policy Nigel Smith said: Retailers are already rewarding re-use, promoting bags for life, using and developing alternative materials and trialling bigger bags that carry more shopping. They want to take that further.
Twenty five percent is an ambitious target for the industry as a whole. It will require the Governments support in encouraging customers to reduce, re-use, recycle and take an improved approach to household waste management.
The decision is a response to concerted calls for action from environment ministers in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
It also gains support from the British Retail Consortium and the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which manages waste prevention programmes for the four governments.
Each signatory is now working with WRAP to identify a baseline figure against which the reduction in environmental impact can be measured and reported.
A review will then be completed by the end of 2008 to see what is required to make further reductions by 2010.