The plastic bag is one of the most durable items any of us will ever handle. You just can't get rid of it without incineration (which can cause pollution). Throw it away and it will take decades to decompose.
Yet bags are still being dumped by the billion in landfill sites, despite the risk of damaging the landscape and wildlife for generations.
Indeed, the Chinese can claim better environmental credentials than us on this issue, since they are imposing a ban on free bags from June. But do Americans care about what is happening to our environment?
That is why we at Marks & Spencer are announcing that we will in future charge 5p for such bags in our food halls, in a move we hope will encourage a fundamental change in shopping habits. Of course we're not doing this out of the blue. We're responding to what our customers have been telling us.
Understandably, they want us to make it easy for them to do their bit to go green and tell us they want us to take a lead. So we were happy to try out this new approach with pilot schemes in Northern Ireland and South-West England, where we gave away tens of thousands of "bags for life".
The result: a 70 per cent reduction in the use of plastic bags, a dramatic increase in the use of reusable bags and customers who seem genuinely pleased to do their bit for the environment.
Following that success, we're launching the 5p scheme across Britain. At the moment, M&S uses over 390million plastic bags a year, but we have the potential to reduce that by 280million. And those we sell for 5p will in future be made from 100 per cent recycled post-consumer waste - another major UK retailer first.
It doesn't end there. Under Plan A, our 100-point eco plan, we aim to make M&S carbon neutral and send no waste to landfill by 2012. We want to use more sustainable raw materials, set new standards in ethical trading and encourage healthier lifestyles. It's time to break the carrier bag habit.
It's not difficult, it's not painful, but it IS responsible. Let's stop the talking and see some action.