British shoppers may soon have to pay a tax of nine pence on each plastic bag they use following the success of a similar scheme in Ireland which was introduced in March.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher has given his backing to the charge which aims to reduce the amount of plastic waste and cut the environmental impact of discarded plastic bags. The initiative also looks to encourage customers to re-use their carrier bags.

UK shoppers use around eight billion plastic bags a year and it is estimated the new tax would add around 60p a week to a family shopping bill. The initiative would be administered by shops and supermarkets.

Mr Meacher, who has asked for a report into the scheme, said: "I would be arguing very strongly for putting something through here. It's a cracking good idea."