Friday’s news from leading supermarket giant Woolworths to phase out plastic bags by mid-2018 has received a wave of support that’s still breaking. Praise is coming in from all directions - from nationwide lobby groups to public servants (who are still bent on keeping tight-lipped about the government’s direction in this domain).
It made such a crash that major competitor Coles jumped on the wagon just 2 hours after Woolworths made the announcement. Then, Harris Farm upped the ante and committed to removing single-use plastic bags from their stores by January 1, 2018.
Woolworths reasoned the bag ban as “the right thing to do as one of Australia’s largest retailers”. Woolworths predicts that they burn through 3.2 billion bags per year. The direct costs attached to the production, transport, storage and distribution of these bags carries a price tag of $170 million per annum.
For big business to implement change before policy is significant in any movement. This is not to be downplayed. Nor is the significant drop in consumption of bags and their proliferation in our environment that the ban bag will deliver.
Yet, as the finer details of the ban come to light, it is difficult not to question the genuine roots of this decision. The current grey plastic-bags will be replaced with a ‘slightly thicker’ plastic bag at a cost of 15cents or a reusable ‘green’ bag can be purchased for $3.
Not only will these businesses be saving $170 million but they will be bumping their revenue up by $70 million from the sale of goods that still damage the environment. Coles and Woolworths profiteering from so-called eco-friendly bags is far from new news.
Both Clean Up Australia Day and Planet Ark Directors have expressed concern at the logical gap in addressing the problem of single-use plastics with this method. Green bags are made from polypropylene, which does not biodegrade and is dependent on oil (non-renewable) resources.
So a slightly thicker plastic bag or a reusable bag made without any community consultation or engagement of local business is the best they can come up with? On top of that, the absence of any discussion around using this revenue to support environmental clean-up efforts or waste education in schools is another disappointment.
It’s equally unsurprising and deflating to realise decisions framed to benefit the environment hang completely in the hands of economic gain.
So, in a world that pits the economy against the environment who exactly is this bag ban ‘the right thing’ for?