MARKS & Spencer is to charge food customers 5p for every plastic carrier bag they use, the store chain said today.

The charge is aimed at reducing demand for the bags, which campaigners say damage the environment.

The chain said money raised from the levy would be spent on improving parks and play areas across the country.

Around 13 billion plastic bags are given out free to UK shoppers every year and take 1,000 years to decay.

The move follows a trial at 50 stores in Northern Ireland and the South West of England which saw demand for polythene bags fall by more than 70 per cent.

If that figure was replicated across the country, the move could reduce the number of bags used by 280 million each year, chief executive Sir Stuart Rose said.

Marks & Spencer will give all food customers free long-lasting bags from early April for one month. The 5p charge will begin on May 6.