Australia has announced plans to tackle the litter problem caused by plastic bags, with a view to getting supermarket chains and retailers to cut plastic bag litter by 38 million bags by the end of 2004.

Possible measures the government may introduce to achieve their target include a levy on the 6.9 billion plastic bags used by the country’s 20 million people each year and setting supermarkets “ambitious” recycling targets, according to Environment Minister David Kemp.

“The plastic bag problem is first and foremost a problem of litter,” Kemp was quoted as saying by Reuters.

“The challenge for Australia is not the 6.9 billion plastic bags used each year, but the 50 to 80 million that end up as litter. We must stop this incredible number of bags finding their way into the litter stream, where they are lethal to marine and other wildlife.”

State officials have met with the Environment Minister and agreed to set retailers a 50% recycling and reduction target for lightweight plastic bag use over the next two years, under a voluntary code of practice, reported Reuters.