Big stores refusing to axe plastic bags
ALL eyes were on the supermarkets on the weekend as the July 1 plastic bag ban came into force. But two huge retail names are holding firm and refusing to bin the bags.
It means that since Sunday, single-use plastic bags will still be available in Australia's two largest states.
Woolworths, and its liquor brand BWS, binned the bags on June 20. Coles, IGA and Woolworths owned department store Big W followed suit on July 1.
But Target and Kmart aren't having a bar of it. Single-use plastic bags will remain at the registers in both Victoria and New South Wales after Sunday.
Jayne Paramor, Deputy Director of the Boomerang Alliance, an environmental campaign organisation, said she was "disappointed" that the two retailers were sticking with plastic bags.
"We would have hoped they would have removed the bags. That's why we have advocated for a ban because, ultimately, retailers still have the freedom to pick and choose when it comes to plastic bags."
She said Target and Kmart's actions could encourage other retailers to "backslide" on the self-imposed bans.
However, the stores, both part of Wesfarmers that also owns Coles, have told news.com.au the delay in implementing a ban could actually be a better outcome for the environment.
A spokesman said Kmart and Target would axe the bags "by 2019".
The reason the two chains can stick with plastic is because legislation differs widely state by state.
Single-use plastic bags have already been pushed out in ACT, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Bans come into force in Queensland and Western Australia on Sunday, with retailers in the Sunshine State, for instance, facing fines of $6300 each time they hand over one of the bags.
But a ban isn't actually due to come into force in Victoria until the end of the year. While NSW seems in no hurry to even consider a government-enforced bag ban - which could see it become the only state or territory where the carriers are still permitted.
Despite there being no legal imperative to remove single-use plastic bags in NSW and Victoria, IGA, Coles and Woolworths have taken the opportunity to ban them from their stores nationwide. Not so for Kmart and Target - well, at least not until the end of the year, a Wesfarmers Department Stores spokesman said.
"(Kmart and Target Australia) are committed to helping reduce the number of single-use plastic bags that end up in landfill each year," he told news.com.au.
"That's why, by 2019 we will have stopped providing single-use plastic bags in all our stores across Australia."
The company said not binning bags immediately was an environmental benefit as the single-use plastic bags removed in Queensland and WA on Sunday would be sent to stores in Victoria and NSW, sparing them from landfill.
Questions were raised last week about what would happen to unused shopping bags at Coles and Woolworths stores with both retailers telling news.com.au they would be recycled.
Mr Paramor said the difference in legislation around the country meant retailers had more wriggle room in some states than others.
"Most of these retailers are part of larger groups and they have the capacity to do the ban in one arm but not another and get away with that because there is not a ban across all states."
Target and Kmart's get out clause in NSW could encourage the supermarkets to reverse their decision to voluntarily remove the bags, she said.
"NSW this week is a prime example why a ban needs to be put in place because there is the capacity for retailers to backslide when shoppers get a bit miffed."
Chains such as Myer and David Jones and fashion retailers generally use thicker bags made of low density polyurethane. These can still be given away for free, despite them taking even longer to break down in the environment.
Target's lethargy on plastic bags is surprising as they were once a leader in the retail sector on the sustainability of shopping bags.
In 2009, Target scrapped free plastic bags and asked customers to pay 10C for a biodegradable alternative.
But a buyer backlash led the chain to scrap the paid for bags in 2013 and returned single-use bags to registers after receiving 500 annual complaints about the charge.
At the time a Target spokesman said: "Customers have clearly told us that they do not believe they should be forced to buy a bag."
Coles and Woolies are pulling out all the stops to try and head off the possible fury of bag less shoppers on the weekend.
On Friday, Woolworths back flipped on its plastic bag ban, saying it will now hand out free reusable bags to frustrated shoppers for the next 10 days.
The supermarket giant's managing director Claire Peters told news.com.au it had been a challenge to get some customers into the habit of bringing their own eco-friendly bags.
"While some customers have forgotten their reusable bags altogether, many have done the right thing and brought their own only to end up one or two reusable bags short.
"That's why from now until Sunday, July 8, if customers forget their reusable bags, we'll have complimentary reusable bags available for their shopping at Woolworths."
On Thursday, Coles said they would open every single checkout in all its stores during the busiest periods this weekend in the states where the ban was coming into force.
The hope is it will speed customers through the store even if they do struggle with adapting to shopping without traditional bags.