Nationwide Bans Have Already Helped Eliminate 1.5 Billion Plastic Bags from the System

With plastic bag usage down by 80 percent at retailers across the country.
Libby Curran and Samantha Teague
Published on December 03, 2018

It has been three months since retail giants Coles and Woolworths farewelled single-use plastic bags from their checkouts. And the move — despite initially facing much customer backlash — has already proved a success, with new figures showing plastic bag use is down by 80 percent at retailers across the country.

The numbers, released by the National Retailers Association (NRA) today, estimate that the ban has helped eliminate 1.5 billion plastic bags from the system, preventing them from ending up in landfill and in our oceans.

According to the NRA, overall bag consumption has dropped by over 80 percent, with NRA Manager of Industry Policy David Stout saying in a statement that some retailers were reporting decreases in plastic bag usage as high as 90 percent. "The bulk of shoppers now use their own bags, which has been instrumental in reducing the number of plastic bags being consumed," Stout said.

The supermarkets' plastic bag bans first kicked off this July, with both companies deciding to no longer offer customers free single-use plastic bags in-store. Days later, however, Coles and Woolworths paused their bans and began handing out reusable plastic bags for free after copping a heap of backlash from customers in-store and online. In late August, they both resumed their bans and now charge 15 cents for the reusables (or $1 for cloth bag alternatives).

The bans impacted Woolworths and Coles in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and WA — with SA, the ACT, the Northern Territory and Tasmania already having state-wide plastic bag bans in place. The supermarkets' decisions also coincided with a state-wide bag ban coming into effect in Queensland, with Victoria set to follow suit next year. This leaves NSW as the only state or territory not to commit to a ban.

With scientists predicting that plastic will outweigh fish in our oceans by 2050, reduced plastic use is important. In further wins for the environment, hundreds of retailers around the country have begun banning plastic straws, plastic-free aisles have begun appearing in shopping centres and the EU has pledged to phase out a heap of single-use plastic items by 2021. Let's just hope it's not too little, too late.

Published on December 03, 2018 by Libby Curran
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