Australian supermarket giant Woolworths to ban plastic bags within 12 months

A new study has shown 65 per cent of Kiwis would support a levy on plastic shopping bags.
NEIL MACBETH/FAIRFAX NZ

A new study has shown 65 per cent of Kiwis would support a levy on plastic shopping bags.

Supermarket giant Woolworths has announced that its stores across Australia will stop giving out single-use plastic bags in the next 12 months.

The move will also extend to Big W and BWS stores, which are owned by the Woolworths Group, and is expected to be in place by July 2018. The company said its Dan Murphy's and Cellarmasters stores have already stopped giving out single-use plastic bags.

"We currently give out more than 3.2 billion lightweight plastic bags a year and hence can play a significant role in reducing overall plastic bag usage," Woolworths Group chief executive Brad Banducci said.

Australians use about 6 billion plastic bags every year.
SAM BAKER/STUFF

Australians use about 6 billion plastic bags every year.

"Our customers can also expect further commitments in reducing plastic use in all parts of our supply chain, especially in fruit and vegetables.

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Plastic bags are the biggest problem at the Wellington landfill.
KEVIN STENT/STUFF

Plastic bags are the biggest problem at the Wellington landfill.

"We are committed to listening to our customers and also doing the right thing for the environment, and we feel this is an issue we need to take a stand on."

In New Zealand a recent Stuff poll of 5800 readers showed 83 per cent supported the banning of plastic bags, after it was revealed Henderson Island, an uninhabited Pacific island, had an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on its beaches.

Instead of single-use plastic bags, Woolworths will now sell "thicker reusable versions" of plastic bags and cloth bags at the checkout. Big W stores may provide reusable bags at no extra cost.

The move aims to bring Woolworths stores in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, where there are no state-wide plastic bag bans, in line with the other states and territories.

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The ACT, South Australia, Tasmania and Northern Territory have already banned plastic bags and Queensland will implement a ban in July 2018.

Australians use about 6 billion plastic bags every year, Clean Up Australia's managing director Terrie-Ann Johnson said.

"This will have a huge impact," Johnson said. "Really, the only ones giving them out now at the supermarket level are Woolies and Coles.

"Woolworths taking this initiative will encourage other shops to do the same."

Johnson said Woolworths is likely pre-empting an official ban on plastic bags in the remaining states and the decision is unlikely to cost the company any money.

"At the moment they're buying a bulk quantity of single-use bags and passing the cost on throughout your purchases," Johnson said.

"Now it'll just be that customers can buy heavier duty bags."

Woolworths' latest move comes amid a growing social media campaign to "ban the bag", which is calling on the premiers of NSW, Victoria and Western Australia to introduce state-wide bans of lightweight non-biodegradable plastic bags.

A petition being circulated online has been signed by more than 160,000 people.

Greenpeace Australia campaigner Samantha Wockner said "the overwhelming majority of Australians support a ban" and it is time for politicians in NSW, Victoria and WA to act.

"It's disappointing that leadership on this issue has come from a large supermarket chain rather than from our politicians," Wockner said.

German supermarket chain Aldi, which opened in Australia in 2001, has never provided single-use plastic bags at the checkout and sells multi-use bags for 15 cents and fabric bags for 99 cents.

However, Australian retailers, who have complained about the cost of navigating different regulations in different states, are believed to be behind delays in implementing plastic bag bans in some places, including Victoria.

It is estimated that tens of millions of plastics bags end up in Australia's waste streams every year and are frequently ingested by wildlife.

More than half the turtles around the world and two-thirds of some bird species found on Australia's east cost have ingested plastics, according to a CSIRO research scientist.

 

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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