Tesco's curb on plastic bags dismissed as 'greenwash'

Tesco has come up with a plan to wean Britain off its addiction to free plastic bags by rewarding customers financially for taking back old bags to its shops.

Britain's biggest supermarket chain said yesterday that from 14 August anyone reusing old carrier bags would receive extra points in its Clubcard loyalty scheme. Tesco - regularly damned for its record on the environment - aims to reduce the number of bags it gives away annually from four billion to three billion by 2008. But environmental campaigners described the move as "PR spin".

A television advertising campaign to cut bag use will feature celebrities including Martine McCutcheon, Frankie Dettori and Alan Titchmarsh.

There is growing concern about the damage done by Britain's use of carrier bags, which are made from oil, cause litter and pose a threat to marine life. The country uses up to 17 billion plastic carrier bags.

Ikea has begun charging 5p a bag and last month Lord Rooker, the environment minister, suggested supermarkets could be limited to using only plain bags to make them less attractive to distribute. Other proposals being discussed include a tax, such as that introduced in Ireland where a levy of 15 cents a bag led to a 90 per cent fall in the number used.

Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco's chief executive, said that research showed his customers wanted a carrot rather than a stick to solve the problem. He said: "Carrier bags are an important part of the shopping trip, providing convenience for millions of customers, especially those who walk to our stores. But we know that many people are concerned about how many bags they use." The proposal follows a 10-point Community Plan announced by Tesco in May, which includes increasing recycling, installing windmills at stores and, from next month, introducing degradable plastic bags.

Friends of the Earth's supermarket campaigner, Sandra Bell, said that Tesco's latest plan showed that the store chain was "more interested in PR spin than substance".

She added: "This is typical of the greenwash that Tesco has been churning out over recent months," she said. "Even if it meets its target to reduce the number of bags being used, Tesco will still be handing out three billion plastic bags a year. And this is just a drop in the ocean compared to the mountains of packaging waste the chain creates." Although Tesco might reduce energy use per store by 2010, the overall amount it used would increase because of its expansion. She added that Tesco's degradable bags were still made from oil.

She said: "Until it sets ambitious targets for reducing the mountains of food packaging that it is responsible for, it cannot claim to be making a serious commitment to tackling waste."