A quiet revolution has been under way in the supermarket world in recent months.
Without fanfare, Woolworths and Coles have been gradually phasing out free plastic bags. By the end of this month, the ban will be complete.
Bowing to pressure to reduce its impact on the environment, Woolworths will banish all single-use bags by June 20, while Coles will follow suit on June 30. Between them, the two supermarket giants have been handing out more than three billion plastic bags a year.
The move follows state- and territory-wide crackdowns on plastic bags in recent years by South Australia, the ACT, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, to be joined by Western Australia and Queensland on July 1. Victoria has signalled similar plans, without specifying a date.
Internationally, too, plastic bags have been targeted. In the UK, for instance, shops are now obliged to charge their customers five pence (nine cents) for each single-use plastic bag.
Coles and Woolworths are going further, with single-use bags to be banned completely. Woolworths will sell reusable sturdy plastic bags (for about 15 cents) or vegetable fibre bags (for about $3). Shoppers will be encouraged to bring their own bags.
So what do consumers think of the looming ban, which will have nationwide effect? Hatch polled 130 people through social media.
More than three-quarters thought the ban a good idea; however, nearly 40 per cent said they would not be willing to buy a shopping bag.
For Woolworths, the plastic bag move is one of a range of “green” initiatives in the pipeline. The company expects to phase out plastic straws and plastic packaging of produce by the end of the year.
Environmentalists hope the supermarket bag bans – which will also affect Coles and Woolworths subsidiaries, including BWS, Liquorland, Big W and petrol outlets – will encourage other businesses across Australia to follow suit.
Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci said in a statement: “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. We know this is a big change for our customers and store teams, and we need to do all we can to make the transition as seamless as possible.”
Speaking outside the busy Woolworths Metro near Sydney’s Central Station, Vanessa Lloyd welcomed the ban, but acknowledged that not everyone would approve. “I think a lot of people will be frustrated about it, but I think we have to do our bit for the environment, so they’ll have to get over it,” she said.
Sinead Smith agreed that the move would benefit the environment, although she said it might be difficult to get used to the ban at first.
“I always get caught out without a bag … but if I’m just running in to pick up a few things, I can just put them in my backpack or handbag,” she said. “But ask me after I’ve done a big shop and I’ll probably be annoyed.”
Overall, shoppers seemed prepared for the change, with 90 per cent saying they already had reusable bags at home. Now the challenge is remembering to bring them. – @taylaobrien13