Matthew Miller
Aug 1, 2018

Bag backflip: Coles inexplicably fails to implement its own plastic policy

The Australian grocer caves in to a minority that was apparently having difficulty with the "transition" to reusable bags.

Better Bags: 15 cents...or free if you complain (Source: AFP)
Better Bags: 15 cents...or free if you complain (Source: AFP)

Environmentally aware Australians are up in arms about a decision by Coles Supermarkets to continue providing sturdy, reusable plastic shopping bags to customers for free "indefinitely", rather than sticking to a long-promoted new policy to start charging for them as of today.

The grocer phased out flimsy, single-use plastic bags on 1 July, and has been giving out sturdier, multi-use bags to customers since then, while urging shoppers to remember to bring the bags back on their next visit, or start bringing whatever reusable bag they prefer. As of today, the plan was to stop giving out the sturdy 'Better Bags', and start charging A$0.15 for them.

But a BYOB policy is apparently too much for certain people to handle, while others felt entitled to free bags forever, environment be damned. So now the company has said it will accommodate the presumably small number of people who have had trouble with a "transition" that most of the world managed to survive a decade ago.

“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," a spokesperson told news.com.au.

Social-media response to the latest move has been incredulous and sharply critical.

The brand's latest statement has also brought criticism from Greenpeace. “They talked the talk but haven’t walked the walk,” a spokeswoman, Zoe Dean, said in The Guardian. “It’s interesting because the ban on single-use bags came as a result of pressure from customers and people calling for companies to take responsibility and stop using plastic bags. While a minority of people are struggling to cope, we know it’s just a matter of time for people to adapt to the change.”

Objections toward new bag policies seem to have been more strenuous in Australia than in many other markets. According to this report, store employees have been taking verbal abuse, one woman stole a shopping trolley in an act of brave civil disobediance, and at a Woolworths (which also implemented a new policy recently), one man was so enraged he grabbed an employee by the throat.

Coles' short-sighted reversal of its own policy is undoubtedly stupid and was guaranteed to cause exactly the kind of reaction it is causing. However, retailers probably wish the government had just gone ahead and mandated a plastic-bag policy (as has been the case in many other markets), rather than leaving them to take the heat.  

Coles also came under fire recently for a promotion that put even more unnecessary plastic into circulation.

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