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The EU was under fire last night for seeking a ban on plastic shopping bags to fight pollution
The EU (European Union) was under fire last night for seeking a ban on plastic shopping bags to fight pollution.

Shops in Britain could be outlawed from stocking them, or alternatively there might be a new tax to dramatically reduce their use.

But angry retailers say any move would hit sales, while doing nothing to save the environment.

Richard Dodd of the British Retail Consortium said yesterday: "A Europe-wide ban on bags is unnecessary. It is likely to alienate customers from the green agenda, which is the opposite of what the European Union is trying to do. It is not appropriate for the EU to get involved."

The average British family uses 12 plastic ­carriers for the weekly food shop, while 46 per cent take home up to 10 from each visit. A ban would require people to remember to take their own bags each time they go shopping. Unplanned trips will be almost wiped out as bags will not be available for purchases.

The news comes as retail sales jumped by 1.1 per cent last month, the biggest rise in 23 months.

But experts warn that the retail ­sector's growth is still extremely fragile. Banning plastic bags could set the recovery back by badly hitting ­consumer spending.

The EU Commission said each person in Europe used about 500 bags a year, and most of them were never ­re-used.

"Fifty years ago, the single-use plastic bag was almost unheard of.

"Now we use them for a few minutes and they pollute our environment for decades," said EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik.

"That's why we are looking at all the options, including a Europe-wide ban on plastic carrier bags."

Mr Potocnik added: "Social attitudes are evolving and there is a widespread desire for change.

"We need the views of as many people as possible to complement our scientific analyses and help drive policy on this issue, which is suffocating our ­environment."

British Retail Consortium spokesman Mr Dodd said: "Retailers have been very successful already at working with customers on reducing the number of bags handed out. This has been achieved on a voluntary basis and is the best way. Many people already carry their own bags around with them - but because they want to, not because they are being forced to.

"If you use the heavy hand of the law you're more likely to turn people off."

He added: "Sometimes people make unplanned shopping trips and they will need bags. There is no reason why they should not be able to get these."

Mr Dodd added: "Climate change is important, but these bags are the wrong focus and should not be demonised.

"They are not the major issue. Food waste, for example, is a far more important issue."

Jasmine Birtles of consumer advice service Money Magpie said: "Plastic bags are actually among the most recycled things in homes. People re-use them again and again, whether for shopping, or as bin bags or for other uses. They are very useful."

She added: "This announcement by the EU is very patronising. We don't need them to legislate on such things for us."

UK Independence Party Euro-MP Paul Nuttall said: "People and businesses are already changing their habits through reusable bags and charging at supermarkets.

"All well and good. Now we have the EU clambering on board demanding the right to tax or ban something that every single person uses. It is the height of arrogance."

Tory MP Philip Davies said: "This would be a kick in the teeth for consumers. It is a ridiculous idea.

"They don't seem to realise that many people use plastic carrier bags for all sorts of other purposes.

"Shoppers will end up buying more bin liners instead, which are far worse for the environment.

"In Ireland, they tried imposing charges on carrier bags. It was a complete failure that only helped to boost supermarket profits."

The Irish charges came into force in 2002. Retailers are required by law to pass the tax on to shoppers.

Wales and Northern Ireland have introduced levies of 5 pence and 15 pence respectively.