Coles’ bag ban backflip is a balls up.
Coles’ bag ban backflip is a balls up.

‘Weak, spineless’: Coles’ huge plastic bag fail

OPINION

SO, AFTER years of planning, months of publicity, and weeks of having to cope without single-use plastic bags, it has come to this.

With Coles' backflip on its own bag ban announced today, we've found ourselves in a position where it would have actually have been better for the environment if we'd never gone through this whole sorry process in the first place.

In an effort to banish the litter of lightweight, single-use carrier bags, our streets are now going to be littered with heavyweight carrier bags instead. Some progress.

The country's second-largest supermarket chain has confirmed that its temporary offer of free reusable bags "to help our customers during this transition period", due to expire today, will now be extended.

Not for another week or so. Indefinitely.

Coles’ “better bags” aren’t better if they are used only once. Picture: AAP Image/Peter RAE.
Coles’ “better bags” aren’t better if they are used only once. Picture: AAP Image/Peter RAE.

'BALLS UP'

"Many customers bringing bags from home are still finding themselves short a bag or two so we are offering complimentary reusable 'Better Bags' to help them complete their shopping," said the supermarket.

Sheer, utter nonsense. The bags are only "better" than their predecessors if you reuse them at least four times. If they are used just once, and many probably will now they're free, they are demonstrably "worse bags".

And wasn't the whole point of charging people for bags to nudge them into remembering to bring their own bags? How is making them free going to help in that process?

On social media, they've been ripped into.

"Weak and spineless." "shame on you," "pathetic," are some of the comments.

What an absolute rolled gold balls up. How can Coles' environmental credentials be trusted again?

The firm has now given a free pass to its customers to cause the environment even more harm. No wonder sustainability groups are livid.

Speaking to the Herald Sun, director of environmental group Boomerang Alliance Jeff Angel labelled it a "weak act".

"These so-called reusable plastic bags … have a very limited life and the removal of the price signal also means they are more likely to be littered - something we warned about."

The company's slogan is "Good things are happening at Coles"?

Yet, this move is, clearly, a bad thing for our streets, our landfill sites and our waterways, and here's why. Classic single-use carrier bags are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) which takes lots of energy to make and isn't great for marine life. They also take an age to break down - but not as much as bags made from thicker plastic bags like the ones Coles are now throwing at customers like lollies at a kid's birthday party.

A 2016 report by the NSW Environmental Protection Agency found low-density polyethylene (LDPE) bags, like the ones Coles are giving away, had to be used at least four times to have a lower environmental impact than the bags they replaced.

Now reusable bags will fill up landfill sites. Picture: iStock
Now reusable bags will fill up landfill sites. Picture: iStock

WHY EVEN BOTHER?

Coles can get away with all of this because in NSW and Victoria there was never an actual statewide ban in place at all.

The Woolies and Coles bag bans were self-imposed because both chains had sniffed the wind and decided the legislative axes would fall on bags soon enough, so why not get ahead of the curve and make the logistics of running the stores simpler.

But even in WA and Queensland, and the rest of the states and territories, where the bans were legally enforced, it was only the HDPE carriers that were axed. No government seriously thought a supermarket would give away the more expensive version for free, forever.

Coles' move may see the states now move to ban thicker bags, which means you'll have to bring your own to department and fashion stores too. So, thanks for that.

What's more likely is that Woolworths and IGA will announce they will now follow suit.

If Coles had stayed firm on bags, so would Woolies. But in the supermarket wars, no chain wants its rival to have a competitive advantage.

Make no mistake, Coles isn't doing this for larks. It knows the backlash it will get. This is happening because of feedback from customers at the check-outs in Sydney and Melbourne. Coles has decided that gain is worth the PR pain.

And yet, from Adelaide to Hobart, Canberra to Darwin, people have been coping without bags for years.

After all that planning, it took Coles a matter of weeks to blink on bags.

Surely they knew customers were going to push back? If their mettle was so weak, why did they even bother to go through this whole environmental charade. It would have been better for everyone if we didn't have the ban in the first place. They may as well restock the check-outs with single-use carrier bags.

It might be a winner for slack shoppers, but it's a disaster for the environment and for any major brand thinking of doing the right thing in the future.


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