Marks & Spencer is to charge customers for plastic food carrier bags from the beginning of May.

The initiative, designed to reduce environmental impact, follows a trial in Northern Ireland and the southwest of England, which led to a 70 per cent fall in the use of plastic bags.

Shoppers will have to pay 5p per food carrier bag and cash raised will fund the activities of environmental charity Groundwork, which creates and improves green spaces.

The bag reduction scheme is the latest phase of M&S’s Plan A environmental programme. The retailer has committed to reducing carrier bag use by a third and sending no waste to landfill sites by 2012.

M&S chief executive Sir Stuart Rose said: “We want to make it easy for our customers to do their bit to help the environment and our trials have shown us that they want to take action.”

He said that if his customers cut the number of food carrier bags they use by 70 per cent, M&S would use more than 280 million fewer a year.

The charge will be imposed from May 6. In the preceding month, shoppers will be offered a free Bag for Life with every food transaction.