COLES and Woolworths are finally pulling the pin on single-use plastic bags.
It has been a long time coming but it’s a decision that has been applauded by Australian environmental groups.
But how much impact does plastic have on our environment?
While most humans don’t bat an eyelid at discarded plastic, 100 000 marine creatures die from plastic entanglement every year – and those are only the ones found.
Scientists have identified 200 ocean areas declared as ‘dead zones’ where life organisms can no longer grow.
That’s a result of more than 8 million tonnes of plastic waste flowing into the ocean every year.
According to data compiled by National Geographic in the US for its Planet or Plastic campaign, almost one million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute, of every hour, of every day, 365 days a year, around the world.
That’s more than 525 billion drink bottles every year.
Shoppers in the US use almost one plastic bag per resident per day – equating to 525 billion shopping bags every year.
By contrast, shoppers in Denmark use an average of four plastic bags per resident per year – equating to 22.9 million bags every year. The US consumes 302 million more bags in one day.
A massive 40 per cent of plastic produced globally is discarded after only one use, and less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled.
Nearly half of all plastic ever manufactured has been made since 2000 and about 8 per cent of the world’s oil production is used to pump out all that plastic.
That figure is projected to rise to 20 per cent by 2050.
Planet Ark chief executive Paul Klymenko said the evidence was clear that single-use plastic bags were a huge problem for Australia’s oceans and waterways, where they cause significant harm to marine life.
“This is a welcome move by the major supermarkets that will have a positive and meaningful impact on our environment,” he said.
“Plastic bags don’t breakdown in landfill and require significant resources to manufacture.
“Experiences in countries such as the UK and Ireland have shown the introduction of small charges on plastic bags can end up reducing plastic bag usage by up to 85 per cent.
“Overseas shoppers have embraced reusable alternatives and we have confidence this can happen in Australia too."
And there are positive signs already with Australians jumping on the reusable bag bandwagon following the major supermarkets announcements.
Trolley Bags, whose reusable shopping bag system achieved viral success in 2015, has experienced a 150 per cent jump in sales this financial year, an increase it directly attributes to the announcement.
Within days of Woolworths and Coles announcing their bag ban in 2017, Trolley Bags sales skyrocketed with sales up 400 per cent from the previous month.
Unlike other grocery bags, Trolley Bags are a system of four sturdy, reusable shopping bags that can be rolled together and hung on the back of a trolley while shopping.
Once groceries are unpacked at the register, the bags can be spread across the trolley in one step.
They stand up-right on their own, allowing two hands free while packing the bags.
Trolley Bags managing director Peter Byrne said shoppers were embracing the change with many looking beyond the supermarket for alternative options.
“The feedback we’ve had from customers is they’d prefer to invest in quality bags they’re less likely to forget than continually having to purchase bags at the checkout,” he said.
“The removal of single-use plastic bags is a positive step towards reducing waste, but to make real change we need to reuse more.
“Continually buying thick plastic bags or green bags at the checkout will do the environment more harm than good.
“Trolley bags are made from non-woven polypropylene, which makes them a stronger and more durable alternative to other reusable shopping bags. Plus, they’re machine washable which makes for easy cleaning.”
Woolworths will cut off single-use plastic bags nationally from June 20 and Coles will do the same from July 1.
That will see an end to more than 3.2 billion single-use plastic bags that are handed out by Woolworths in Australia each year.
Woolworths’ chief executive Brad Banducci said he believed phasing out the bags was the right move to make and looked forward to working with customers to create a greener future for Australia.
“Our teams have been working hard behind the scenes to accelerate the rollout of this plan so we can start making a positive impact on the environment as quickly as possible,” he said.
“We know this is a big change for our customers and store teams, and we need to do all we can to make the transition as seamless as possible.”
Customers who don’t bring their own bags to Woolworths will have access to a range of alternative shopping bag options in store, including thicker reusable plastic bags costing 15 cents and canvas bags costing 99 cents.
Coles managing director John Durkan said despite customers enjoying the convenience of single-use bags, phasing them out was the right thing to do.
Coles’ customers who forget to bring their own bags will be offered a range of reusable bags available for 15c each.
The bags are made from 80 per cent recycled material and are 100 per cent recyclable through the RedCycle bins available in all Coles’ stores.
“Coles is also introducing a new range of reusable bags, which have been designed by Australian school children and will help to raise funds for four community organisations, with a portion of sales being directed to the worthy causes,” Mr Durkan said.