After commiting to reducing their plastic waste by no longer giving out free single-use plastic bags, Coles have now been presurised by unhappy consumers to extending the free giveaway of reusable plastic bags to August 29th. Coles stopped the distribution of their grey, single-use carrier bags back on the 1st of July but offered customers free reusable plastic bags in order to give them chance to adjust to no longer having access to the single-use bags.

Coles were due to begin charging shoppers 15 cents on the 1st of August for the reusable plastic bags, or 99 cents for stronger, canvas bags. However, they U-turned on this after a number of complaints from shoppers, instead offering the reusable plastic bags to customers for free indefinitely.

Well, after just a day of saying they would supply customers with reusable plastic bags indefinitely, Coles has gone back on itself again, stating that free reusable plastic bags would only be given out until August 29th before they would, again, charge the consumer.

The carrier bag ban is a nationwide move by supermarkets to reduce plastic consumption and the negative environmental impact that single-use plastic bags have. The major supermarkets and the Australian Government have worked together to create legislation to ban single-use plastic bags in States across the country – only New South Wales are yet to implement a ban.

Unhappy Australians

Many Australians have reacted very negatively to the plastic bag ban in Coles and Woolworths. A report from 9News found that a number of Woolworths shoppers were unhappy that they were being forced to switch to reusable bags. Issues raised include ‘having to now buy bin bags’, being ‘unable to remember to bring reusable bags’, and that there’s a lot of other plastic-packaged products sold instore. It essentially boils down to it being an inconvenience for some people.

I don’t see any of those issues as being reason enough not to ban single-use plastic bags- they’re the excuses of people unhappy with change. The charges for the bag do not add to the profits of the supermarkets, instead going to notable causes close to the supermarkets. And the more expensive bags have a lifetime guarantee and can be replaced at any time. Bringing your own shopping bags will very soon become the new normal for Australian shoppers, and the focus on reducing plastic elsewhere in supermarkets can be continue.

The Real Reason for a Plastic Bag Ban

Going back to the 9news story (linked above), what’s perhaps most disappointing is the lack of information on the environmental impact of reducing plastic bag usage. The small number of mainstream news reports on the single-use plastic bag ban have focused more on the inconvenience of a ban to shoppers than the environmental consequences of continuing our excessive consumption of plastic.

Marine Animals often consume plastics, mistaking it for food

Plastic bags are incredibly dangerous to wildlife. To a number of marine species, plastics bags floating in the water look a lot like jellyfish which many feed off. As plastic bags break down into smaller pieces, they can be consumed by a greater number of marine species and lead to the deaths of many as plastic cannot be digested. Back at the start of June, a Pilot Whale died in a Thai canal after consuming 80 single-use plastic bags despite numerous attempts to save the whale. The combined weight of the plastic bags added an extra 8kgs to the whale’s weight!

You may, or may not, have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; huge collections of plastics and litter have formed small ‘islands’ between Japan and the USA. The patch is split between an eastern garbage patch and a western garbage patch with debris being carried by ocean currents between the two within the subtropical convergence zone.

The Pacific is not the only body of water that has a growing garbage patch, it is only the largest and most well known. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans both have garbage patches forming with even small bodies of water like the North Sea are beginning to see collections of plastic waste of a significant size.

Plastic bags that are discarded often end up in the ocean where they can be consumed by marine life

Banning Plastic Bags Around the World

Banning single-use plastic bags is nothing new. Many countries around the world trialled a plastic bag ban before bringing in nationwide bans, and in every case it has been successful.

Using the UK example, Wales were the first to implement a plastic bag ban in 2011 and quickly saw very positive results. Charging just 5p for the single-use plastic bags led to a drop on their usage by 71% in Wales and that figure has continued to drop further in recent years. Scotland and Northern Ireland soon followed in 2014 and 2013 respectively and have seen similar drops in sales of single-use plastic bags. In 2015, England finally imposed a ban to complete a United Kingdom nationwide ban. An article in The Guardian found that the 5p charge has led to an 85% drop in single-use plastic bag usage.

Australia are actually lagging well behind a number of countries around the world in getting rid of single-use plastic bags

We are now well aware of the problem of our love of plastic and its time we start making concious changes to reduce the amount of plastic we consume. Shoppers that have been against the plastic bag ban are right when they say that there is a lot of other plastic used to package their products, but that doesn’t mean that plastic bags shouldn’t be banned. It just means that supermarkets need to urgently address the plastic waste that many of its products needlessly contribute to! Despite their indecisiveness in following through with this plastic bag ban, Coles have finally reverted to the right decision to stop handing out free reusable bags. Hopefully, as it gets closer to the 29th of this month, they will now stick to this decision and not buckle under pressure again!

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