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Environment

Australian Supermarket Giants Join the War on Plastic Pollution

Are you ready for reusable bags?

By the end of June, Woolworths and Coles will have entirely phased out the existence of single-use plastic bags from their stores, a move that is anticipated to deter billions of bags from ending up in seas and landfills.

Woolworths began its nationwide ban on June 20, removing all plastic bags from its supermarkets, associated department store Big W, and liquor store BWS. Coles will follow in its footsteps on July 1.

Australia remains one of the highest producers of waste the world. A recent report from environmentalist group Greenpeace revealed that Australians use over 9.7 billion single-use plastic bags annually, with the waste from coffee cups and plastic bags alone being enough to stretch for 1.47 million kilometres.

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The plastic revolution has been sweeping the nation, with the supermarkets following on from Australian states South Australia, ACT, Northern Territory, and Tasmania who all banned plastic bags statewide earlier in the year. Like Coles, Queensland and Western Australia will enforce the ban from July 1.

“Our teams have been working hard behind the scenes to accelerate the roll-out of this plan so we can start making a positive impact on the environment as quickly as possible,” Brad Banducci, Woolworths Australia chief executive said in a statement.

“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 for both.”

For Aussie shoppers who forget to bring their reusable bags, heavy-duty thicker plastic bags, linen bags, and freezer bags will be available for purchase.

Celebrating the nationwide decision was Victoria’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, who has long believed the retail giants needed to do more to cut down on their share of plastic waste. D’Ambrosio announced in a statement that the supermarket ban would “slash waste, reduce litter, and help protect marine life in Victoria’s waters”.

While similarly applauding the move, Greenpeace Australia has also called for further measures to be enforced.

"Obviously Greenpeace would like to see a phase-out of all single-use plastics across the board, because we know that plastics is a looming problem for our environment and our society," a spokesman told AAP.

Following calls for further action, Coles announced on June 4 they had plans to further step up in the campaign against waste by eventually phasing out plastic straws, ensuring their produce bags are made of 30% recycled content and committing to reduce plastic packaging on fruits and vegetables.

“We know that 69% of customers say that we need to actively reduce waste and landfill through recyclable packaging and find alternative uses for waste,” John Durkan, Coles Australia managing director, announced in a statement.

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The latest bans from the Australian retailers follow worldwide trends in plastic reduction plans, including a nationwide decision by Chile in May to ban all retailers from using single use plastic bags and Morocco’s landmark bill that banned the production, import, sale, and distribution of all plastic bags across the country. Last week, the European Union called for a ban on single use plastics including cotton buds, straws, and cutlery.

While axing single-use plastic bags at supermarkets is certainly a step in the right direction, for activist and environmental groups there is still a long way to go to tackle one of the world's most harmful pollutants once and for all.

Global Citizen campaigns to end the production single-use plastics. Join us in telling corporate and government leaders that single use plastics must be stopped. Take action here.