LONDON Retailers must charge customers for the 13 billion plastic bags they now get free every year or the government will force them to, Chancellor Alistair Darling said on Wednesday.
"We will introduce legislation to impose a charge on them if we have not seen sufficient progress on a voluntary basis. Legislation would come into force in 2009 and based on other countries' experience, it could lead to a 90 percent reduction," Darling told parliament in his first budget.
Darling was echoing what his predecessor and now boss Gordon Brown said last month -- one of a raft of measures designed to demonstrate a green agenda.
The step follows a voluntary deal Brown struck last year with the major supermarkets to raise the recycled content of the bags to try to cut their environmental impact by 25 percent.