Editoris Note: look out for a special deal code on reusable bags at the end of the article.
You may have noticed signs at your local supermarket informing you they will no longer be supplying the single-use plastic bags many of us have grown accustomed to. Woolworths will stop providing single-use plastic bags from June 20 and Coles will stop from July 1.
While this may come as a surprise to some, to others — it’s about time. Several smaller national supermarket chains have discouraged single-use plastic bags from the outset.
Family owned, NSW-based Harris Farm Markets has always offered recycled boxes to its customers instead of bags and actively promoted a statewide ban of plastic bags last year. In January, all Harris Farm Markets’ stores officially went plastic bag-free at their registers — outlawing plastic bags completely and only selling material bags or providing free recycled boxes for customers.
“We’re proud to be the first major retailer to remove plastic bags at registers entirely, and we are humbled by the overwhelming response from our customers in supporting the #BanTheBag movement,” says Tristan Harris, co-CEO of Harris Farm Markets. “Harris Farm Markets consciously chose to eliminate any and all plastic bag options, unlike our competitors who now offer them at a cost to consumers.”
German-owned ALDI has never supplied single-use plastic bags to customers, instead encouraging people to bring their own bags or buy a stronger plastic bag from the store.
“We are committed to protecting the environment and minimising our impact wherever we operate. It’s why all our stores have been completely free of single-use plastic bags since we opened in 2001,” an ALDI spokesperson told us.
In a move to catch up with the others, IGA (Independent Grocers of Australia) has announced it will be eliminating single-use plastic bags by June 30 of this year.
According to a spokesperson for the chain, “IGA is committed to protecting the environment. That’s why we’re eliminating single-use plastic bags by June 30, 2018, and are introducing a great new range of reusable bags.”
By the numbers
This is all good news for the environment because there are currently over five billion plastic bags given to customers in Australia each year. It’s understandable that this number of plastic bags is wreaking havoc on our environment. Back in 2016, ABC News reported that findings from a study predicted “plastic rubbish will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050 unless the world takes drastic action”.
“This is a welcome move by Woolworths that will have a really positive and meaningful impact on our environment,” says Planet Ark CEO Paul Klymenko.
“Experiences in countries like the UK and Ireland have shown the introduction of small charges on plastic bags can end up reducing plastic bag usage by up to 85 per cent as shoppers embrace reusable alternatives, and we have every confidence this can happen in Australia too.”
How will this affect the way you shop?
Once these single-use plastic bag bans are in effect, you’ll either have to bring your own shopping bags or boxes, or buy heavy duty plastic bags or material bags at the supermarket to carry your shopping home.
As this is a major change for the two largest retailers, Coles and Woolworths, they’ve both been trialling the change in certain stores: Coles has been trialling the ban in four stores across Australia and Woolworths in 16 stores.
However, Coles has already phased out single-use plastic bags in South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, and the ACT, so the change on July 1 is for stores in Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, and Queensland.
South Australia has been a trendsetter in this area, banning single-use plastic bags since 2008.
If you forget to bring your own bag after July 1, you can buy a stronger plastic bag made from 80 per cent recycled material, for 15 cents. When you’re finished using this bag, it can be recycled through the REDcycle bins at any Coles store.
Coles will also introduce a new range of Community Bags in June, made from a range of materials including cotton/jute, polypropylene, and LDPE/LLDPE.
“Coles announced in July last year that we would be removing lightweight plastic carry bags from all our stores within a 12-month period because it’s the right thing to do for the environment,” says Coles Managing Director John Durkan.
If you forget to bring your own bags after June 20, you’ll be able to buy a range of shopping bag options including thicker reusable plastic bags for 15 cents and canvas bags for 99 cents.
“We feel very strongly this is the right thing to do, and that together with our customers we can help create a greener future for Australia,” says Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci.
One small step forward
All of this is a major step forward for our environment. However, there is still quite a way to go.
As well as the stronger plastic bags which will now be available for purchase, Coles and Woolworths will both still be providing those thin plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetables.
While both Coles and Woolworths are now partnering with the REDcycle program — a recycling solution where customers can return soft plastics to the stores so they can be recycled — there are many alternatives to plastic bags made from more bio-degradable materials.
If you’re tired of plastic bags and would like to explore some alternatives, Australian store Biome offers a range of products.
Biome was the first eco store in Australia, set up by founder Tracey Bailey 14 years ago. These days there are four Biome stores in Brisbane, and the website sells products both nationally and internationally. Take a look at their reusable mesh bags for fruit and veg, for example. If everyone used bags like these, we wouldn’t have a plastic bag problem.
Do you think it’s time we banned single-use plastic bags? What are your tips for reducing plastic usage in general?