Taking plastic bags out of supermarkets will be good for supermarkets, but not so good for the environment. Rather, it produces benefits for supermarkets because the bags are only obtained if you pay for them .
Australia’s two biggest supermarkets, Woolworths and Coles, announced that their stores will stop offering their free plastic bags within the next 12 months . Instead, customers will be able to purchase a more durable plastic bag at 15 cents each, or simply bring their own bag. It is a policy that is already applied in other countries, such as Spain.
Supermarket margins are already feeling the pressure of price deflation, so charging for a product that was previously offered free is good for supermarkets .
But that would also be good for the environment. While plastic bags account for only about 2% of garbage , there is certainly enough scientific evidence that plastic bags pose risks to marine life and clog waterways .
However, simply removing a plastic bag, without directing these funds to environmental programs, does not necessarily solve the problem . Shoppers slowly revert to old habits, governments and retailers stop educating consumers, and reusable bags soon make their way into water and landfills.
Some shoppers simply forget to bring reusable bags to the grocery store . The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found that the average UK household had 40 plastic bags stashed away at home. Also a parliamentary review from South Australia found that only 30% of shoppers actually recycled their reusable bags . Another American study found that many people still threw away reusable bags .
Ultimately, then, "banning the bag" is just the beginning . Like UK retailers, Australian supermarkets could choose to funnel some of the benefits derived from the reusable bag into community programs or environmental groups.
Australian governments will also need to fund continuing education campaigns to draw attention to bans, alternatives and outcomes. Otherwise, the plastic bag of payment will only benefit the supermarkets the most .