Food retailers have almost halved the number of carrier bags distributed to customers, reducing their environmental impact.

Seven food groups, which set themselves the target of cutting the number of bags handed out by 50 per cent compared with 2006 levels, achieved a 48 per cent reduction.

In May this year 418 million fewer bags were distributed than in May 2006, when 870 million were distributed in the UK.

The grocers, all BRC members, are Asda, Co-operative Group (now including Somerfield), Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.

BRC director-general Stephen Robertson said: “This is a spectacular achievement, especially as between 2006 and 2008 the seven participating supermarkets grew sales volumes by 5 per cent.

“These figures send a clear messasge: the voluntary approach is very successful and can lead to better informed customers and lasting change.”