Letter to Coles: Bendigo Sustainability Group takes giant to task on plastics back-flip, Little Shop and reusable bags

Sustainable shopping: boomerang bag organisers Nellie Harris and Ginny Tan. Picture: CHRIS PEDLER
Sustainable shopping: boomerang bag organisers Nellie Harris and Ginny Tan. Picture: CHRIS PEDLER

The  Bendigo  Sustainability Group (BSG) strongly  protests Coles recent contradictory,  and what we would consider  soft actions, with regard to the continued free provision of plastic bags at your supermarkets.

Whilst we understand that 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.

Coles should not  buckle because  a relatively small  number of people are  simply too lazy, forgetful or uncaring to bring their own  bags and can do nothing but complain. 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 hoped that a large organisation such as Coles/Wesfarmers could provide strong and unequivocal leadership on this issue. There  is irrefutable  evidence that plastic bags cause long lasting environmental damage, including a threat to marine species, and species further up the food chain.

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.

Chris Corr and Leanne James

We note that you have quickly responded to the widespread condemnation from the broader community, including the flood from our members and supporters in Bendigo and central Victoria, and you have reaffirmed that the provision of free plastic bags will soon end.

However there should have been no need for the extension as ultimately the price signal for bags is a critical one in providing sufficient signals for many people to change their ways. Ample pre‐warning of free plastic bags ending was provided by both Coles and  Woolworths. Unfortunately your backflip has caused long‐lasting impact and damage to the Coles image and brand. We know first hand of hundreds of people who have communicated that they will now boycott Coles and shop elsewhere.

Whilst your decision to eliminate single-use plastic bags is admirable, you have now introduced a multi‐use plastic bag that will remain within the environment for a much longer time. If these bags are disposed of irresponsibly and enter the environment as currently regularly occurs, the devastating environmental impacts will endure.

Image: Coles

Image: Coles

The wider community is also flabbergasted at the widespread advertising and provision of the “Little Shop”  items. These are completely unnecessary and just cause further depletion  of resources, waste going to landfill and ultimately costs to society. 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 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 reinforcing and promoting to them a throwaway society.

It is heartbreaking when our hard working volunteers think of the massive benefits we could provide to our community with a tiny portion of the money Coles has spent, and continues to spend, on manufacturing Little Shop items and advertising them. Coles had an opportunity to demonstrate corporate leadership in this important area. Instead, it is demonstrating a lack of corporate environmental responsibility.  

Whilst our message to Coles is a public one criticising your lack of strong and decisive leadership on this issue as demonstrated by your backflip earlier in the week, we would much rather pursue more positive actions and outcomes to re‐establish trust in the community.    

We welcome your more recent announcement to impose the 15c cost on plastic bags from the end of this month. Furthermore, we extend an offer to Coles to work with the Bendigo Sustainability Group to extoll the benefits of using reusable bags made out of natural or repurposed materials, such as those produced by the local chapter of Boomerang Bags, as well as supporting other waste minimisation and environmental programs focussed around communication and education that the BSG is able to offer, and that we could significantly ramp up if we had the required financial support and resources.

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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.

The  Bendigo  Sustainability  Group has a number of action groups working on many initiatives to reduce waste and provide a better future for the community of central Victoria and we do this through very close working and engagement with many members of  the community.

We  have  a very active Boomerang Bags Bendigo group  who has recently clocked up 2,000 bags made, and this number is increasing all the time.  This project works in collaboration with a wide range of community groups, education providers and other local agencies. We do what we do with little or no funding support and almost entirely with volunteers.

We hope that you seriously consider our offer of some form of partnership to do something positive, proactive and  meaningful within central Victoria that can leave a lasting legacy of a better future, and one with much less waste. 

Chris Corr is vice president, and Leanne James is co-ordinator plastic wise/ boomerang bags for Bendigo Sustainability Group

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