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Asia Minute: Australia’s Plastic Bag Battles

Keng Susumpow

It’s been just over a month since customers at stores on O‘ahu started paying 15 cents for plastic bags. This week in Australia, one of the country’s leading grocery store chains reversed its policy on plastic bags — and environmentalists are angry.

Two grocery store chains control about 70-percent of Australia’s market.

Months ago, they both announced they would voluntarily stop providing single-use plastic bags to shoppers. The stores said they were responding to feedback from customers who wanted a “greener shopping experience.”

Those thin plastic bags are already illegal in most states of Australia. The exceptions are the two states with the most people: New South Wales, which is home to Sydney, and Victoria, where Melbourne is located.

Earlier this summer, both Woolworths and Coles started to charge for bags. Customer backlash followed — with reports of some angry confrontations.

Both stores added an adjustment period to ease into the ban. But on Wednesday, Coles said it is changing course entirely, and will continue to hand out heavier plastic bags for free — instead of charging customers 15 Australian cents. Woolworths is still charging customers for those heavier plastic bags.

Credit Darren.notley / Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Coles Supermarket

Coles said its customers need more time to adjust, but it’s given no indication if or when it will start charging for the bags.

Environmental groups are furious – Greenpeace calling it “irresponsible and disappointing.” The head of Australia’s National Plastic Bag Campaign called it “a betrayal to the millions of their customers who want the supermarket to do the right thing.” 

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