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Asia Minute: Plastic “Bag Rage” Down Under

Kyle Van Horn

This Sunday, stores around Oahu began charging 15 cents for plastic bags. Most people realized this change was coming, and it hasn’t been a big deal. But a similar change in Australia is having a very different result.

Single-use plastic bags have been on their way out in many areas for quite some time. That includes half a dozen states in Australia — where they are banned.

On July 1st, stores in Western Australia and Queensland began charging customers 15 cents for a reusable bag — that’s about 11 cents in U.S. currency.

So far, the transition has not gone well.

There have been dozens of reports of what several Australian news sites are calling “bag rage” — angry consumers taking out their frustrations on store staff.

A union representing store workers around the country asked its members about reaction to the change in policy. 132 responded, and 43-percent said they had been “abused by shoppers.”

That includes many customers who have been tossing bags and other items on the floor or at workers, swearing at staff, and in at least one case physically assaulting an employee.

Credit Alpha / Flickr

Australia’s grocery giant Woolworths started the change early – charging customers for bags about ten days before the ban became law. But the backlash has been so strong that the chain reversed course, and is offering plastic bags for free for another week.

The United Nations Environment Program says more than 60 countries have now taken some kind of action to reduce the prevalence of single-use plastic.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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