There’s mounting pressure on the world to grapple with its plastic addiction. Landfills and oceans alike are choking on waste plastic, which is made from crude oil and can take centuries to decompose.
The ban on single-use plastic bags by Australia’s two largest supermarkets prevented the introduction of an estimated 1.5bn bags into the environment, and the retail industry is hopeful this is only the beginning.
New evidence, though, suggests that small changes in plastic policy can make large changes in aggregate. Coles and Woolworths’ decided to stop offering single-use disposable plastic bags midway through the year after years of campaigning by environmental groups and consumers. When Australia’s two largest supermarket chains banned plastic bags three months ago, the Guardian reports, it led to an 80 percent reduction in the country’s overall consumption of plastic bags.
Some shoppers objected to the change at the time but many others were strongly in support and three months on the change has translated to an 80% drop in the consumption of plastic bags nationwide, according to the National Retail Association.
There was a public outcry in Australia when retailers Coles and Woolworths pledged to ban plastic bags this past summer. Some shoppers objected to the change at the time but many others were strongly in support and three months on the change has translated to an 80% drop in the consumption of plastic bags nationwide, according to the National Retail Association. Initially, things were tough: Woolworth’s blamed the move for falling sales, and Coles briefly reversed the rule before settling on a small fee for plastic bags.
But just a few months later, according to Australia’s National Retail Association, the bag prohibition has made a significant environmental difference. The group estimates that it’s kept some 1.5 billion bags out of the environment.
In October, the European Union voted to completely ban single-use plastics by 2021 — though its member states still need to approve the law. In the meantime, Coles’ and Woolworths’ move shows that small changes by retailers can also help close the plastic gap.
“Everyone delivering things in a package need to take responsibility for what they deliver it in,” National Retail Association spokesperson David Stout told the Guardian. “I think there’s going to be a lot more pressure on all of us to be more aware of what we consume.”