Media Releases | 14th Feb, 2006

Shadow shoppers test supermarket plastic bag use

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

A team of community shadow shoppers has tested Victorian supermarkets more than 200 times and found efforts to reduce plastic bag use are falling short.

The survey of Coles and Safeway supermarkets was conducted by volunteer shoppers on behalf of Environment Victoria in late January.

The two major supermarket chains were chosen because they had committed to halving the number of plastic bags used by 2006. To reach that goal, the supermarkets have recently adopted a no-bag-unless-asked policy for few items.

The survey, The Great Plastic Bag Checkout: Are supermarkets making the cut?, tested express lane practice and found that:

  • 50 per cent of shoppers with one or two items were automatically given a plastic bag;
  • 78 per cent of shoppers observed didn’t bring their own bag;
  • 58 per cent of shoppers observed used a free throw-away plastic bag

Environment Victoria zero waste campaign director Jenny Henty said the survey clearly showed a voluntary system to reduce plastic bags – as run by the major retailers for almost a decade – was simply not enough.

“Despite encouraging efforts made by many Australians to take-up reusable bags, in reality most stores are still addicted to throw-away bags,” Ms Henty said.

Ms Henty said a recent Federal Government-commissioned report estimated that even with a decrease, we are still using 4.7 billion plastic bags every year.

“Making those bags generates the same amount of greenhouse pollution as driving a car 540 million kilometers – enough to drive to Perth and back a staggering 79,000 times.”

Ms Henty said a 25 cent levy per bag was needed to make a dramatic impact on the scourge of plastic bags and protect our environment.

“A national levy on carry bags at the check-out is urgently needed to stop billions of plastic bags from continuing to fill up landfill sites, blow into gutters, choke our waterways and threaten thousands of animals.”

Ms Henty said many governments around the world – including Ireland, South Africa and India – had regulated to reduce plastic bag use and it was time the Howard Government took action.

“When a levy was imposed on plastic bags in Ireland in 2002, use decreased by 90 per cent over a six month period. Australian retailers that charge for carry bags – such as Bunnings, IKEA and ALDI – have demonstrated that a levy would work here to promote reusable bags.”

Download survey results The Great Plastic Bag Checkout: Are supermarkets making the cut?