The issue of thrown-away food both from overstocking and through customers buying more than they can eat looks set to top the retail agenda as the government introduces new measures to reduce wastage.

Plans to cut the estimated 4.1m tonnes of food wasted each year by British households could begin with retailers being banned from offering buy one get one free (bogof) promotions on perishable goods.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is demanding that retailers, and particularly the supermarkets, sign up to tough new targets on reducing food waste, or face legislation that forces them to make savings. Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: "We need a radical rethink on how we produce and consume our food."

Bogof deals were identified as one of the main reasons that a third of all food is wasted, a recent report by the government's waste watchdog WRAP found. Half-price deals could take their place, and the industry will be urged to offer food in a greater range of pack sizes to suit smaller and single-person households.

Eliminating unnecessary food waste would cut carbon emissions equivalent to taking a fifth of Britain's cars off the roads, WRAP added.

The national press has also criticised the supermarkets for what the Daily Mail described as "ruthless marketing and cynical promotions" which encourage expensive wastefulness. "This subliminal bullying disguises itself as generosity," said columnist Joanna Blythman.

My Shop Is Your Shop (MSYS) chairman Alan Toft said it was vital that independent retailers participated fully in the waste debate. "Food waste and CO2 emissions could become the biggest issues in the marketplace over the next 10 years, and local retailers are ideally positioned to profit," he said.

"It is crucial that local stores are not left behind in this debate. Independents can win a bigger share of food spend by promoting their localness and unique positioning for buying for today and tomorrow, so that families don't over-buy," he added.

MSYS has added the phrase 'Don't buy and bin' to its 'Think Global, Shop Local' slogan for National Walk & Shop Day on September 16.