Single-use plastic bags are going out of style in Australia, but shoppers aren’t thrilled by the reduction. Two major retailers, Big W and Coles, have officially ended the use of plastic shopping bags from their stores. The move effectively outlaws their use in nearly every Australian state.
After Tasmania and South Australia started by installing a plastic bag ban, national retailers voluntarily began relying on them in stores. On June 20, 2018, Woolworths stopped offering single-use bags, instead charging shoppers 11 cents for reusable plastic totes starting July 9. After sharp customer backlash, the totes will be free until July 8.
The other two retail chains pulled the plastic shopping bags off their shelves July 1. To quell community outrage, Coles brought on more staff to ensure check-out lines moved quickly as a result of the shift.
As a nation, Australia is reducing its reliance on one-use plastic products to combat ocean pollution. According to the United Nations’ Environment Program, the world produces over 300 million tons of plastic annually. Approximately 2.6 percent – eight million tons and as many as 5 trillion plastic bags – end up in the ocean, where they can poison marine life. Without reducing single-use plastic production, the UN estimates plastics could outnumber ocean fish in just over 30 years.
While the move is environmentally conscious, it isn’t popular with shoppers. According to Australian labor union SDA, around 43 percent of retail workers said they suffered “abuse” from shoppers because of the change. At least one was reportedly assaulted, leading the union to start a public service announcement campaign to educate the public about plastic pollution.
In the United States, the National Conference of State Legislatures shows only two states have instituted single-use plastic bag bans for shoppers: California and Hawaii. Six major cities, including Austin, Boston, Chicago and Seattle, have all banned single-use bags, while four states and at least six cities charge fees to shoppers who opt for plastic bags.