Coles has been slammed for launching new plastic freebies less than a week after pledging to axe plastic toy promotions as part of a sustainability push.
The grocery giant said it will give away a new line of reusable plastic picnicware on Thursday, less than a week after announcing it it wouldn’t hand out plastic toys with groceries again for environmental reasons.
The picnicware replicates a 2019 promotion and is made from “durable” plastic that’s designed to be reused, mirroring claims Coles made about its now defunct Little Shop and Stickeez toys in 2018 and 2019.
Coles chief marketing officer Lisa Ronson said the new freebies would allow people to replace single-use plastics after it stopped selling disposable plastic plates, bowls and other tableware earlier this year.
“These campaigns have been incredibly successful, and we think it’s because customers respond to products that are practical, timely and useful for their home,” Ms Ronson said in a statement on Thursday.
But Heidi Tait, CEO of ocean cleanup group Tangaroa Blue Foundation, said the freebies were a step backwards and would increase the plastic floating around the community, worsening Australia’s waste crisis.
“This is new plastic, we can’t currently recycle it in Australia. It’s going to end up in a recycling bin, stockpiled or in landfill,” Ms Tait told TND.
“It’s not really helping the issue, is it? It’s just more new s***.”
Coles has previously stoked community outrage after its Little Shop and Stickeez toys were found washed up on beaches, triggering boycotts.
Last week the supermarket giant pledged to kill off the controversial marketing campaigns, which were a big sales driver but are now far less popular.
Louise Grimmer, a senior marketing lecturer at University of Tasmania and an advocate for reducing plastic waste, had welcomed Coles’ move. But on Friday she said the latest development was “really disappointing”.
“This new promotion really takes the wind out of sails of last week’s announcement and I don’t blame consumers if they are confuse by the messaging coming out of Coles,” Dr Grimmer told The New Daily.
“It doesn’t appear to be very consistent.”
Dr Grimmer said it appeared different departments within Coles aren’t communicating with each other.
“I would argue that most households already have plenty of plastic plates and bowls,” she said.
“Do we really need more plastic items in our homes?”
Pip Kiernan, chair of CleanUp Australia, characterised the plastic picnic gear as imperfect, but said it is preferable to single-use items.
“We’ve got to recognise that this is a process,” Ms Keenan told TND.
“We want millions of people and businesses doing zero waste imperfectly rather than a handful doing it perfectly.”
Ms Keenan said it is imperative Australia moves towards designing products in ways that waste can be eliminated entirely.
“We need to be realistic about that, single-use plastics and problematic plastics are being designed out of products,” she said.
Coles new plastic products are manufactured in Europe by a Dutch company called RoyalVKB, which Coles also worked with in 2019.
Customers expressed outrage at the program back then too, with many taking to social media to suggest Coles was making pollution worse.