Controversial bag charge a success as shoppers will use six billion fewer plastic bags this year

Shoppers in England will take home six billion fewer plastic bags this year as a result of the 5p charge, according to early figures.

More than seven billion of the single-use bags were given to customers by seven retailers in 2014, but this figure dropped to just over half a billion in the first six months after the charge was introduced.

Environment Minister Therese Coffey said: "Taking six billion plastic bags out of circulation is fantastic news for all of us.

"It will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won't be saddled with mountains of plastic sat taking hundreds of years to break down in landfill sites."

Dr Sue Kinsey of the Marine Conservation Society said: "We are delighted to see that the bag charge in England is showing positive results.

"This is a significant reduction that will benefit the environment as a whole, and our sea life in particular."When the scheme launched, the government expected it to reduce the use of the bags by up to 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street.