Sweden's IKEA will charge U.S. customers five cents for disposable plastic shopping bags in what the international furniture giant said on Wednesday was a first step to ending their use altogether.
IKEA said the decision to stop giving away free bags to customers aimed to reduce the estimated 100 billion bags thrown away by all U.S. consumers each year.
IKEA is believed to be first major retailer in the United States to undertake such a program, according to National Retail Federation spokesman Scott Krugman.
Concern about widespread pollution caused by the bags has led cities and countries from Ireland to Australia and Rwanda to ban their use. Bangladesh outlawed plastic bags after they blocked drains and contributed to flooding. Taiwan uses 80 percent fewer bags after stores began charging for them.
Environmentalists say the bags add unnecessarily to landfills, clog drains and endanger wildlife.
IKEA currently provides some 70 million free bags to its U.S. customers; it expects to cut that by half in the first year and to eventually eliminate the use of the bags.
The company said it will also cut the price of reusable bags to 59 cents from 99 cents to encourage their use. The program will begin on March 15 at the company's 29 U.S. stores and the money from bag sales will go to American Forests, a conservation group.
Last June, IKEA began charging its U.K. customers for plastic bags, and has reduced its bag consumption by 95 percent, said spokeswoman Mona Astra Liss.
The average American family of four throws away about 1,500 single-use polyethylene bags, which do not degrade for around 1,000 years, IKEA said. Less than 1 percent are recycled.
"We believe Americans are starting to be more conscious of the environment," Liss said. "Our objective is to get people to really think about the impact of the bags which are strangling the planet."