Supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles changing up plastic bag policies

Key points:

  • Woolworths will phase out plastic bags from its stores in Queensland and the ACT
  • The supermarket chain says customers can still buy alternatives made from paper and fabric, or chill bags
  • Coles is introducing compostable produce bags after an attempt to remove plastic bags proved “challenging”

Woolworths has announced it is doing away with its 15-cent plastic shopping bags in Queensland and the ACT, while its competitor Coles is abandoning its trial for reusable produce bags in Canberra.

Woolworths state general manager for Queensland Danny Baldwin said the decision to phase out the bags was made in order to better protect the environment.

“By removing the 15-cent plastic bag in Queensland and the ACT, we will be removing over 1,600 tonnes of plastic from the system,” he said.

He said the move was inspired by customers.

“Eighty per cent of our customers currently bring in their own bag, so over the number of years, I think customers have really responded to reusing bags,” he said.

“Also, a number of our customers are electing to actually not use bags at all.”

He said the store would continue to offer alternative options, such as paper, fabric and chill bags.

“But we want to sell fewer bags,” he said.

Mr Baldwin said the supermarket giant was also working to reduce plastic in the grocery aisles.

“[We] will continue to remove plastic from our business, but we need to work sustainably with our suppliers,” he said.

He said Woolworths also aimed to phase out plastic bags in its online business throughout 2023.

Coles switches to compostable produce bags

Fresh produce wrapped in plastic bags.
A trial ban on the use of plastic bags for fresh produce began in September last year at Coles.(Pexels: Karolina Grabowska)


Despite moving towards getting rid of its single-use produce bags, Coles has abandoned a trial of reusable mesh bags announced last year and will instead introduce compostable bags to use for fruits and vegetables.

The chain’s management said the trial in its ACT stores had been a challenge for both customers and staff.

“Throughout the Australian-first trial we were impressed by our customers’ willingness to use reusable mesh produce bags to purchase and reuse when buying fruit and veggies,” a Coles spokeswoman said.

“We also acknowledge that a significant change of this kind was challenging for both our customers and in-store teams, however, we remain committed to working towards appropriate and accessible plastic reduction initiatives for our customers moving forward.”

The spokeswoman said the new compostable bags were made from natural plant starch and customers should be able to drop the bags into their home compost bins or green bins.

More education needed, sustainability expert says

Sustainability strategist Julie Boulton said the decisions by the supermarket giants were welcome, but more could be done to educate the public about why the changes were necessary.

“You’ve really got to also educate everyone and just constantly remind people because for so long, we’ve just been so used to being able to walk in and just grab a bag,” she said.

“We need to make sure we’re actually bringing everyone along on the journey.”

Ms Boulton applauded the “bold” move by supermarkets to ditch plastic bags and ask customers to either bring their own from home or pay more for more environmentally friendly options.

“I think they’ve done well in taking the decision and being bold because I know for a lot of people it is a really big shift,” she said.

“But I also think what they could do better is explain why they’re doing it and why this is important and … why they’ve decided to go on this journey and make the call, and then also talk about all of the reasons behind it.

“[For example] what goes into making a plastic bag? Where does it come from? What happens to it after it’s been used? So the more we put up signage around this, the more people understand, okay, right, ‘I understand the bigger picture, it’s not just my pain right now, it’s actually for the common good’.”


Extracted from ABC

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