Supermarkets have been warned that they need to cut down on the number of plastic bags they hand out for customers' shopping by Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw.

However, Bradshaw shied away from threatening a tax on the bags, similar to that introduced in Ireland in 2002 which resulted in retailers charging customers for them. Speaking on BBC radio, Bradshaw said the government's preferred option was to agree a voluntary code.

'We need to tackle all disposable bags. I'm not sure that a tax on them is the right solution,' he said. 'I think a voluntary code and if that won't work then we can actually legislate either to ban them completely or to force a year-on-year reduction in their use.'

Bradshaw met supermarket representatives to discuss ways of encouraging customers to re-use plastic bags.