Opinion: Woolworths/Coles banning the bag is good but not good enough.

If you are reading this post then you are likely to be part of those among this Earth who are – somewhere, somehow – fighting climate change and the destruction of our beautiful planet. And if so, then you are probably up to speed on the nefarious impact of plastic in our ecosystems, particularly our Oceans.

On Friday, Coles and Woolworths the two biggest retailers in Australia, announced they will phase out single use plastic bags by 2018. This is certainly a victory for our Planet but here’s why we can’t dwell on it…

Plastic bags are not entirely being banned.

Woolworths will still allow its costumers to buy thicker plastic bags for $0.15. These thicker bags are actually a lot worse for the environment, since they break up into more durable microplastics that take even longer to be absorbed. By contrast, Harris Farm Markets announced that they would ban the bag completely.

Harris Farm Market bans the bag
Harris Farm will no longer have plastic bags in their stores

One has to wonder: what is stopping Woolworths from completely banning plastic bags and adopting thick paper bags instead?

It still doesn’t sound like this is being done because Woolworths cares about the planet.

Congratulating Woolworths on this decision is the equivalent of congratulating a 5-year-old for doing something right. Except Woolworths is not a child; it is a multi-billion dollar corporation with a massive impact on the consumption habits of our society. Supermarkets are an integral part of how we live, alongside Governmental institutions and Energy providers (electricity, oil, gas, coal…).

Because of it, they have a moral responsibility to do the right thing (not to mention, a massive environmental footprint). Woolworths shouldn’t have to be pressured into banning the bag – they should be at the forefront of how to tackle the climate crisis, leading by example.

Their announcement on Friday shows a lack of understanding for the monumental battle ahead; they are still thinking this from a profit angle and worrying whether it will be “inconvenient” for the public. While I understand that publicly traded companies have a responsibility to pay dividends to their shareholders, it doesn’t give them carte blanche to neglect their social responsibilities.

What I wanted to see from Woolworths was a concentrated plan to tackle plastic pollution and waste across the board. An announcement that they were not only banning the bag but also re-visiting plastic product packaging, introducing aisles for oddly-shaped products and favouring methods of production, manufacture and transportation that are favourable to the environment.

And this is why we – activists – cannot pause, cannot slow down, cannot let go.

On Friday, our Oceans scored a small victory. We celebrated it. Now we have to carry on fighting for our Planet.

We have to continue to demand Woolworths, Coles and every other retailer to do more. Remember that IGA still hasn’t banned the bag at all.

Same thing can be said for Priceline Pharmacies, 7-Eleven, David Jones, Myer or OfficeWorks; we need to demand that a ban is implemented at a State level so that no retailer – big or small – can provide plastic bags for free.

Thousands of people worked together and had their voice heard. We need to ensure that what got us here in the first place is not forgotten and that this momentum continues to propel us forward in the challenging years ahead.


More on this topic:

New South Wales must ban the bag completely

What is the impact of glass on our oceans?

Re-Imagining Soft Drinks at Home