‘Cockroaches crawling out onto check-outs’
SUPERMARKET giants Woolworths and Coles have denied shocking reports of needles, rodents and dirty nappies being presented to check-out staff in customers' reusable bags.
Bernie Smith, Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA)'s national New South Wales secretary, said check-out staff had found mice, cockroaches, needles, razor blades, dentures and dirty nappies in the multi-use bags.
"We get stories of cockroaches crawling out on to check-outs from bags,'' he told The Australian. "A worker suffered a needle stick injury after a used needle was left in a bag, and staff said customers had presented bags strongly smelling of petrol."
Mr Smith told news.com.au these were current examples based on reports that had come through from recent trials of reusable bags in the lead-up to the ban.
But he did note the union was pleased with the retailers' initiatives to ensure a smoother transition process, including a program to exchange dirty bags for new ones, and recycle the former free of charge.
The supermarkets told news.com.au they had not received reports of sanitation issues, saying it was off the back of the SDA seeking assurances around their workplace processes before the June 20 ban took place.
"We met with the SDA in the lead up to June 20 to discuss the removal of single-use plastic bags from our stores and associated team member training material," a Woolworths spokesperson told news.com.au.
"At this meeting we made it clear to the SDA that our team members would be supported through the transition and appropriate health and safety standards would be upheld.
"We've found the vast majority of customers have been respectful and patient with our teams over the first week and we thank them for that."
They also noted team members have been told they do not have to accept customer abuse, and that complaints can be escalated to the store or duty manager.
Check-out workers are advised they can refuse to pack items if the bag poses a hygienic risk.
The union also said customers prefer to carry a smaller number of recycled bags and instructed staff to "fill them to the brim", in what would be a potential health and safety risk.
A Woolworths spokesperson told news.com.au staff have been advised to explain to customers that too much weight may break a bag and could pose a potential injury.
Smith said the SDA had received mixed reports from Woolworths staff, noting that while the "majority of customers" were embracing the transition, a small portion was prone to abusive behaviour towards retail workers.
In May, Woolworths polled 12,500 customers about the single-use plastic bag ban. According to their survey results, almost 75 per cent supported the transition to reusable bags, while less than 15 per cent were opposed to it.
A spokesperson for Coles told news.com.au check-out staff were not allowed to pack bags that posed a sanitary risk, and said staff could only lift a bag with a safe weight.
"For the health and safety of all customers and our team members, we cannot pack bags that are excessively dirty. If customers need a new bag, we have alternatives starting at 15c, as well as a range of Community Bags, which direct a proportion of sales to our community and charity partners.
"Workplace safety requirements mean we can only fill a bag so it is safe to lift. Not over-filling the bag minimises the chance of injury to customers and our team members, and also means the bag will last longer."
"There's no doubt that the phasing out of single use plastic bags will be a big transition for customers," the retailer added. "However, we think that customers are willing to give up the plastic bag and use reusable bags for the sake of the environment."
From July 1, single-use plastic bags will be banned in Queensland and Western Australia, bringing them into line with South Australia - the first state to ban the bag in 2009 - the ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania. Victoria will ban plastic bags, but is yet to announce a start date.
Woolworths offers reusable bags including a 15-cent thick plastic bag, a 99-cent 'foldable bag' and a $2.49 'chiller bag' to keep your shopping cool. Coles offers 15-cent bags, as well as multi-use bags from $1.