UK retailer Sainsbury’s is aiming to cut the use of plastic bags at its stores by 50% by 2009.

The company will pilot a series of initiatives aimed at helping customers cut down on the number of plastic bags they use. The results of the trials will inform further progress on bag reduction, the company said.

Recent Sainsbury’s research suggested that 49% of consumers don’t use reusable bags because they forget to bring them. In response, the group is handing out free fridge magnets and car stickers that carry a reminder to bring reusable bags shopping.

The company has rejected the possibility of charging its customers for single-use bags. Sainsbury’s has instead said that it will reward its customers with a loyalty card point for each bag reused.

“Sainsbury’s does not believe that charging for single-use bags is the only answer or that it is the most likely way to achieve lasting benefit for the environment,” CEO Justin King said.

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“Forcing customers to make a decision they don’t fully understand is not the best way to achieve sustained behavioural change. This requires a series of actions to help customers to reduce, reuse and recycle. Starting this weekend we will test a number of new initiatives to find out what engages and helps people to reduce the number of bags they use.”

Currently Sainsbury’s single use bags are made of 33% recycled material and 10% chalk. Sainsbury’s said today (17 April) that it will increase the recycled content of its carrier bags to 50% by June this year.