Leading article: Ban the bags

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Good news and less good news from the front line on plastic bags. The number of said receptacles given out by the major British supermarkets has declined for the fourth year running, and the total weight of plastic has more than halved over four years; all that, as supermarket sales volumes have risen. The less good news is that a question mark hangs over the most recent annual figures.

A one-month spot check this May showed that the number might actually be starting to rise again, with the target 50 per cent reduction set by the supermarkets in 2006 actually receding. In May 2009, the target was missed by only two percentage points; this May it was missed by a full five. And anyway a target is a target, especially when it is as well publicised as this was.

Nor was the target set solely out of an altruistic desire on the part of the supermarkets to do their bit for the environment. It was chiefly in the hope that voluntary restrictions on the distribution of plastic bags would avert the threat of a compulsory ban. That is what is increasingly happening in other parts of Europe, to the manifest benefit of the surroundings. Four years on from the initial campaign, it ought to be back on the agenda again here.