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Banning Plastic Bags Could Save Supermarkets Millions, Report Finds

Plastic bags not only hurt the environment, they’re also expensive.

Purchasing, shipping, and distributing lightweight plastic bags costs two supermarket chains in Australia an estimated $171,100,000 per year, an economic toll that has become too great, especially in the face of all the environmental concerns about plastic bags.

So within the next 12 months, the two supermarkets will stop providing free plastic bags.

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Woolworths and Coles announced that they will instead allow customers to purchase durable plastic bags at the checkout counter for 15 cents a piece, or bring their own bags.

Although these more durable bags cost more for retailers to purchase than single-use plastic bags, less will have to be purchased, and they are being sold rather than given away. This means that supermarkets could make $71 million in profit by eliminating single-use plastic bags and selling reusable ones in their place.

Both supermarkets claim their motivations for eliminating plastic bags stem from a desire help the environment, although the financial savings for the supermarkets was a strong factor in their decisions.

A report by the Environmental Protection Agency found that 40 to 60 million plastic bags permanently enter the environment each year. These bags remain in the ecosystem even after clean-up efforts and negatively affect the health of over 600 species of marine life.

Read More: Zimbabwe Bans Styrofoam-Like Food Containers

In 2008, Whole Foods joined the movement to “ban the bag.” According to The New York Times, Whole Foods officials had been pushing customers to eliminate plastic bag use, but the trend did not catch on until they began charging 99 cents for plastic bags. The organic grocery store has since completely eliminated plastic bags, offing customers a choice between reusable or recycled paper bags instead.

California became the first US state to ban all single-use plastic bags. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in 2014, although by that time several Californian cities had already banned single-use bags in their jurisdictions.  

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Woolsworth and Coles are not, however, the first Australian retailers to eliminate plastic bags.

In 2009, South Australia became the first Australian state to ban plastic bags from supermarkets. In the following years, the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, and Tasmania all banned plastic bags from supermarkets.