Coles will continue handing out plastic bags for free in its stores indefinitely, bowing to customer pressure and saying shoppers “need more time to make the transition to reusable bags”.
- All Australian states and territories except NSW have either banned, or pledged to ban, single-use plastic bags
- Coles will instead hand out thicker, reusable bags for free
- The reusable bags are worse for the environment if they reach waterways and other habitats
Most state governments in Australia have banned thin single-use bags, and the supermarket giant pledged to phase them out from July 1.
Now, thicker reusable bags which had previously cost 15 cents each will be handed out for free.
That decision has annoyed environmental groups, who warned the reusable bags are worse for the environment if they are discarded into waterways and habitats.
“Some customers told us they needed more time to make the transition to reusable bags,” a Coles spokesperson said.
“We’ve been delighted to see customers grow more accustomed to bringing their reusable bags from home so they are relying less on complimentary bags at the checkout.”
Every state and territory except New South Wales has either outlawed single-use plastic bags, or has plans to ban them.
Coles and rival Woolworths last year announced plans to phase out single-use plastic bags.
Woolworths had been giving out an estimated 3.2 billion lightweight plastic bags annually.
“Many customers bringing bags from home are still finding themselves short a bag or two so we are offering complimentary reusable Better Bags to help them complete their shopping,” the Coles spokesperson said.
A Coles staff member with armfuls of reusable plastic bags in Sydney this morning. (ABC News: Amy Greenbank)
‘Coles caved in too quickly’
Environmental lobby group Greenpeace said Coles’ decision was bad for the planet.
“Coles have caved in far too quickly to a small but vocal minority and there is absolutely no doubt Coles will be punished for this decision by customers who don’t want to see plastic bags littering their beaches and killing marine life,” Australia Pacific campaigner Zoe Deans said.
Single-use plastic bags take years to break down, and many end up in the environment polluting oceans, rivers and beaches.
However, if reusable plastic bags reach the oceans and other habitats, they could cause as much if not more damage than single-use bags currently do.
That is because they take longer to break down.
“This decision makes a complete mockery of Coles’ claim to want to reduce plastic waste and is a betrayal of the millions of their customers who want the supermarket to do the right thing in favour of a vocal minority,” Ms Deans said.
“Removing the price means that these reusable bags are far more likely to be used once and discarded.”
The controversy around plastic bags comes as customers attacked Coles for giving away toy plastic replicas of some of its grocery products last week.
Coles is handing out a collectable range of 30 mini-products, from Vegemite jars to Tim Tams, as a promotion. It is also selling plastic-lined cases to store them in.