Shoppers are divided over the idea of restricting free plastic bags, according to an exclusive ICM poll commissioned by Retail Week.

In an online survey of more than 1,000 shoppers conducted last week, 51 per cent opposed legislation that would phase out plastic bags at checkouts.

However, more than a third (39 per cent) felt there should be a formal ban – a figure that rose to 49 per cent among the more environmentally aware ABs.

Almost half (49 per cent) believe shoppers should be charged for plastic bags and 40 per cent claimed they take bags with them when shopping.

The results come as Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would meet supermarket chiefs and the British Retail Consortium to examine ways to eliminate plastic bag usage.

The BRC said in February that it would work with UK retailers to cut the number of bags distributed by 25 per cent by the end of next year.

A BRC spokesman said that, while it supported reducing the number of bags, it did not endorse a total ban.