Globally, we use and discard approximately 1 trillion plastic bags each year. In Australia alone, over 7000 plastic bags are dumped into landfill every single minute. The effects of this are great: bags pollute the ocean, choke waterways and are ingested by wildlife.
Given these horrifying statistics, when Australian supermarket giant Woolworths announced in July this year that it would stop giving out single-use plastic bags within 12 months, eco-conscious consumers heaved a collective sigh of relief. Despite its parent companies’ decision, Countdown supermarkets in New Zealand did not follow suit – until now.
By the end of 2018, all Countdown supermarkets will stop giving single-use plastic bags to consumers. “We have been tracking customer sentiment for two years,” says Countdown’s managing director Dave Chambers. “Our most recent research, concluded in August, indicates that 83 per cent of our customers support phasing out single-use plastic carrier bags.”
Instead of offering to sell plastic bags for a small fee, the supermarket will reduce the price of reusable shopping bags to $1. Taking effect from October 9, this initiative is the only way to prevent plastic bags from being used, Chambers maintains. “We’re confident Kiwis will get in behind this change across the country, and we’re committed to making the move from check-out bags as simple for customers as we can,” he says. Other sustainable alternatives, such as selling compostable bags, may also be introduced.
Auckland Mayor Phil Gof has applauded the announcement and encouraged other supermarkets to follow suit. “If other businesses make efforts to reduce plastic bag use and the Government introduces a levy on plastic bags, we can likely cut around 500 to 600 million plastic bags a year out of our waste stream in Auckland alone,” he says.
With fellow New Zealand supermarkets FreshChoice and SuperValue pledging to follow suit, it is estimated that 350 million plastic bags will be eliminated from the country’s waste per year.