Supermarket giant Coles has once again started charging 15 cents for thicker reusable plastic bags, after customer pressure earlier this month forced them to back down on their original promise to phase out single-use bags from the beginning of July.
The company had originally pledged to phase them out from July 1, but backtracked on this decision at the beginning of August, saying shoppers “needed more time to make the transition to reusable bags”.
On Thursday Coles confirmed customers are again being charged for the thicker plastic bags at checkouts across the country.
“Complimentary bags were an interim measure to help customers make the transition to reusable bags,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“As announced on August 2, complimentary bags are no longer being offered after August 29.”
Customers must now purchase the thicker reusable Better Bag for 15 cents each.
Coles said these bags can be recycled using bins available in all supermarkets.
A range of multi-use bags are also provided at supermarket checkouts for a fee, the spokesperson said.
Reusable bags ‘worse for the environment’
The decision earlier this month to continue to hand out free reusable bags was panned by environmental groups, who said the thicker bags were worse for the environment than the thinner single-use ones.
In a statement at the time, Coles managing director John Durkan said the decision had been made because customers had found the transition to purchasing reusable bags difficult.
“We know that many customers are still finding themselves a bag or two short at the register and we want to do the right thing by them during this transition period.
“Putting our customers first is in our DNA and we must always be empathetic and responsive to their needs,” he said.
Environmental lobby group Greenpeace said at the time that the company’s backdown was bad for the planet.
“Coles have caved in far too quickly to a small but vocal minority and there is absolutely no doubt Coles will be punished for this decision by customers who don’t want to see plastic bags littering their beaches and killing marine life,” Australia Pacific campaigner Zoe Deans said.
Single-use plastic bags take years to break down, and many end up in the environment polluting oceans, rivers and beaches.
However, if reusable plastic bags reach the oceans and other habitats, they could cause as much if not more damage than single-use bags currently do.
The road to banning single-use bags
Globally, Ireland and Denmark were the first two countries to bring in levies for plastic bags from shops in 2003, and England introduced one in 2015.
Most state governments in Australia have now banned thin single-use bags or have plans to ban them, and Coles and Woolworths last year announced plans to phase them out.
Woolworths had been giving out an estimated 3.2 billion lightweight plastic bags each year.