Bendigo Sustainability Group calls out Coles plastic bag backflips

The Coles reusable plastic bag consists of 80 per cent recycled materials and is 'bigger, thicker and more durable' than single-use bags.
The Coles reusable plastic bag consists of 80 per cent recycled materials and is 'bigger, thicker and more durable' than single-use bags.

THE Bendigo Sustainability Group has slammed Coles for ‘contradictory’ and ‘soft’ actions on plastic bags.

Customers last week learned they would be expected to pay for the supermarket’s reusable plastic bags after August 29.

They had previously been told the 15 cent bags would be complimentary as part of a broader campaign to transition from single-use plastic bags.

It wasn’t the first time the supermarket was seen to have been swayed by public opinion, with the initial position being that people ought to pay to use plastic bags.

In a four-page open letter to Coles and Wesfarmers, BSG vice-president Chris Corr and Plastic Wise Bendigo and Boomerang Bags coordinator Leanne James called on the supermarket giant and its parent company to take a stronger stance.

“Coles should not buckle because a relatively small number of people are too lazy, forgetful or uncaring to bring their own bags and do nothing but complain,” the letter said.

“The massive issues caused by plastic in our environment and to our wildlife, and the increased production and waste costs are surely so much more important.

“We would have hoped a large organisation such as Coles / Wesfarmers could provide strong and unequivocal leadership on this issue.”

The BSG said it ‘strongly protested’ the continued free provision of reusable plastic bags at Coles supermarkets.

“Whilst we understand you have a responsibility to listen to your customers, we find your decision to essentially renege on your free plastic bags policy and to instead continue providing free plastic bags completely unacceptable,” the letter stated.

It said there should have been no need to extend the complimentary provision of the reusable plastic bags from August 1 to August 29.

“Ample pre-warning of free plastic bags ending was provided by both Coles and Woolworths,” BSG said in its letter.

The group said imposing a price for plastic bags was critical to creating behaviour change.

“Coles had an opportunity to demonstrate corporate leadership in this important area,” the letter said.

“Instead, it is demonstrating a lack of corporate environmental responsibility.”

The BSG wrote that it knew of hundreds of people who were intending on boycotting Coles due to its backflips on plastic bags.

Further criticism was levelled at the supermarket’s reusable plastic bag, and its ‘Coles Little Shop’ campaign.

“Whilst your decision to eliminate single-use plastic bags was and is admirable, you have now introduced a multi-use plastic bag that will remain within the environment for a much longer time,” the group wrote.

“If these bags are disposed of irresponsibly and enter the environment, as currently regularly occurs, the devastating environmental impacts will endure.”

The sustainability group said the wider community was ‘flabbergasted’ by the Coles Little Shop campaign, which entitled customers to free miniature plastic collectable figurines with every $30 spend.

“These are completely unnecessary and just cause further depletion of resources, waste going to landfill and ultimately costs to society,” it wrote.

“The timing of your Little Shop campaign in parallel with the free plastic bag phase‐out has astounded and perplexed many within the community.  

“The clear message to the public is that Coles is not serious about reducing waste and impacts on our environment with such a gimmicky giveaway to kids simply reinforcing and promoting to them a throwaway society.” 

The group offered to work with the supermarket giant to ‘extol the benefits’ of reusable bags made out of natural or re-purposed materials, ‘such as those produced by the local chapter of Boomerang Bags’.

“The BSG also calls upon Coles to make cardboard boxes, that most of your products arrive in, readily and easily available to customers at or near the checkouts as always used to occur at supermarkets in the past,” it wrote.

Coles has been contacted for comment.

More to come.

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