Australia has just proven that it doesn't necessarily take sweeping changes in legislation to get people to cut down on their plastic consumption. The country has cut its plastic bag use by 80 percent over the course of three months thanks to sweeping measures instituted by major national retailers.
Since July, two of Australia's largest supermarket chains—Coles and Woolworths—have implemented a nationwide ban on free lightweight plastic grocery bags. Australia's National Retail Association (NRA) estimates that the ban has saved 1.5 billion single-use plastic bags from entering the ecosystem since it went into effect. Customers are now being offered reusable bags for 15 cents a piece, and while there was some resistance at first, new habits are already forming.
“The decision by certain retailers to no longer offer free single-use plastic carry bags certainly received a hostile response from some shoppers initially, but these retailers deserve credit for dramatically reducing the number of bags in circulation,” shared David Stout, NRA Manager of Industry Policy. “The bulk of shoppers now use their own bags, which has been instrumental in reducing the number of plastic bags being consumed. Indeed, some retailers are reporting reduction rates as high as 90 percent.”
While there is no national legislation that bans single-use plastic bags in Australia, most states and territories have policies in place or in the pipeline. One notable exception is Australia's most populous state, New South Wales. By taking matters into their own hands, these large retailers have demonstrated the concrete impact they can have on our planet. Leading by example, they've shown smaller retailers that the transition away from lightweight plastic bags is possible.
Everyone is benefitting from these efforts, with Coles and Woolworths investing the profits from the sales of alternative bags back into local community groups. Overall, they've demonstrated how retail businesses can become leaders in helping people change their use of plastics. The impressive results show how small changes can yield big results.
h/t: [IFL Science!]