Aldi reignites debate over plastic bag ban

Should plastic bags be banned in Australia? Picture: iStock
Should plastic bags be banned in Australia? Picture: iStock

Kenya plans to ban them and Uruguay plans to tax them.

But Australians continue to receive free plastic shopping bags almost everywhere they shop.

Australia's packaging spend is among the highest in the world per capita.

It's good news for packaging giant Amcor, which points out that packaging spend accelerates as wealth increases. 

But it's terrible news for waterways and landfill.

And there's been no attempted clampdown since former federal environment minister Peter Garrett sought to ban them a decade ago but was held back by the states.

But now one Australian retailer is calling for plastic shopping bags to be banned.

German discounter Aldi has never given away plastic bags to shoppers since opening its first store in Australia in 2001 and says it "supports a complete ban on single-use plastic bags".

"At Aldi, we believe it makes good business sense to protect and promote the environment in all aspects of our business," it said.

Aldi customers have to pay 15¢ for one plastic bag, or buy a fabric bag for 99¢ or a cooler bag for $2.49. Aldi did not give details on how many plastic bags it estimated it had saved through its policy, or how many plastic bags it had sold to customers.

Rivals Woolworths and Coles also sell fabric and cooler bags but do not charge customers for plastic bags. Coles has recycling bins in its stores for customers to drop off plastic bags.

A spokesman for Woolworths said "we know our customers appreciate the convenience that plastic bags offer" and it complied with state and territory legislation with regards to shopping bags.

Coles said it supported "voluntary options on single-use, lightweight plastic bags because our customers have told us they would like to make an informed choice".

"Should further bans be put in place, Coles would look for these to be applied to all retailers so there is a level playing field and a consistent approach to what is operating elsewhere."

Other Wesfarmers-owned retailers, Bunnings and Officeworks, do not supply plastic bags.

According to UN Environment, the world today is producing 20 times more plastic than in the 1960s. 

"Each year, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and costing at least $US8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. Up to 80 per cent of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic," it said.

Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Grenada, Indonesia, Norway, Panama, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone and Uruguay have joined UNEP's campaign against ocean plastic.

Green group Planet Ark said Australian businesses generated more than 12.5 million tonnes of waste, with 46 per cent of that going to landfill.

Retailers could reduce their waste by using a compactor to compress cardboard and a baler to compress plastic, it said.

Paul Foley, who helped Aldi set up in Australia, said Aldi charged for plastic shopping bags worldwide.

"The message has always been a clear one: there is no such thing as a "free bag". It's in the prices somewhere," he said.

"Secondly, but incidentally, the Aldi (and discount rival Lidl) policy has become a green policy as plastic is becoming the world's enemy, as it never actually decomposes, it just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces and pollutes."