Last summer, the two largest supermarket chains in Australia – Coles and Woolworth’s – decided to stop offering single-use disposable plastic bags to customers. The initial public reaction was decidedly negative. However, within just three months after the radical change, the country’s National Retail Association reported an 80% drop in the consumption of plastic bags nationwide.
In that three-month period, it is estimated that 1.5 billion bags have been prevented from use. Some retailers are reporting reduction rates as high as 90% in the use of the bags. The move by the big supermarkets has paved the way for smaller businesses to follow suit. The smaller businesses typically can’t afford to risk the wrath of their customers with a major change like this. Customers have to learn to bring their own bags or buy reusable bags at the store.
In much of Australia, the phase-out of plastic bags has been legislated, but the state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, the country’s largest city, has not enacted such legislation. So, supermarkets themselves are doing the work of getting rid of the bags.
The change has not been without hiccups. For the first couple of months after the plastic bag ban was put in place, Woolworth’s saw poor sales in its stores. However, customers eventually got used to the new way of doing things and sales levels returned.
Disposable plastic bags often find their way into the oceans where they break down into microparticles. Studies have shown that these plastic bits are ingested by a wide variety of marine life. For example, a UK study found that 100% of sea turtles in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea had plastic in their digestive systems.
Australia-wide ban leads to ’80 per cent drop’ in plastic bag consumption
Photo, posted September 18, 2018, courtesy of Matthew Paul Argall via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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