Sainsbury’s has launched an initiative to reduce its plastic bag usage by 50 per cent by April 2009.

From June, Sainsbury’s free disposable bags will be made using 50 per cent recycled content. In addition, Sainsbury’s will reward customers who reuse bags with Nectar points.

Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King said that forcing customers to pay for bags was not the way to achieve “sustained behavioural change”. He said that the proposals by Chancellor Alistair Darling, to impose mandatory charges for plastic bags next year if supermarkets do not reduce usage, were “not the best way” to change shoppers’ behaviour.

“Sainsbury’s does not believe that charging for single-use bags is the only answer or that it is the most likely way to achieve lasting benefit for the environment,” said King.

The grocer said it would halve the number of single-use carrier bags handed out to shoppers from 1.7 billion to 850 million over the next year through a number of initiatives.