WOOLWORTHS will stop selling plastic straws by the end of 2018 and will remove plastic packaging from a further 80 fruit and vegetable lines in a bid to appease increasingly environmentally conscious customers.
The change will remove 134 million plastic straws from circulation annually. Woolworths said it had already removed 140 tonnes of plastic packaging from fruit and vegetables over the past year in response to customer outrage.
It comes as supermarkets around the country prepare to phase out single-use plastic bags later this month. On Monday, rival Coles announced its own set of commitments on packaging and recycling, including removing plastic wrapping from bananas.
"In the last year we have seen a shift towards more sustainable attitudes from our customers and the momentum is growing, with recent research showing a 15 per cent increase in Australians now saying that taking care of the planet is important to them," Woolworths group chief executive Brad Banducci said in a statement.
"While we've made progress in reducing the amount of plastic in our stores, supported recycling labelling initiatives, and made improvements in energy efficiency, sustainable sourcing and reducing food waste, we know that more needs to be done to meet our customers' expectations.
"Today's initiatives represent further small, but important, steps in our commitment to make positive change happen. We understand the journey towards a more sustainable future has its challenges, but together with our customers and industry partners we are committed to moving our business, our country and our planet towards a greener future."
With the nationwide phase-out of single-use plastic bags on June 20, Woolworths will offer a new green reusable shopping bag with a lifetime replacement offer. All sale proceeds of the "Bag for Good" next financial year will be donated to the Junior Landcare grants program.
Woolworths also vowed to have a food waste recycling partner at 100 per cent of its supermarkets by the end of this year.
Mr Banducci announced the new initiatives at a sustainability event at the Woolworths headquarters in Bella Vista on Monday featuring sustainability expert Peter Skelton from Wrap UK.
Craig Reucassel from the ABC's War on Waste hosted a panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities of moving to a "circular economy" featuring packaging billionaire Anthony Pratt, Harris Farm Markets CEO Angus Harris, Woolworths managing director Claire Peters, Unilever CEO Clive Stiff and Planet Ark CEO Paul Klymenko.