As the public conversation about how to address the environmental impact of single-use plastic carrier bags ramps up, Countdown has announced it will phase these out from its stores and online shopping by the end of 2018.
This announcement, made on Wednesday, is a key part of Countdown's broader efforts to minimise waste. It will announce further commitments in November as part of a 20-point corporate responsibility and sustainability package reaching to 2020. The first step towards phasing out single-use plastic carrier bags will be the permanent repricing of reusable bags from $1.39 to $1.
Countdown’s managing director Dave Chambers says: “Now is the right time to take the lead, phase-out single-use plastic carrier bags and introduce better options for customers. This move will result in the removal of 350 million plastic bags from our waste stream and environment.
“We have been tracking customer sentiment for two years and our most recent research, concluded in August, indicates that 83 percent of our customers support phasing-out single-use plastic carrier bags.
“In May 2016, Countdown introduced New Zealand’s first plastic bag free supermarket on Waiheke Island, where customers are bringing their own bags and we have compostable bags on sale for 15 cents. Customers adapted quickly to plastic bag free check-outs, and we have had very positive feedback.
“We’re confident Kiwis will get in behind this change across the country, and we’re committed to making the move away from check-out bags as simple for customers as we can.”
The phase-out will also affect Countdown's online shopping service, for which trials are underway to replace the use of plastic bags in deliveries. From October 9, Countdown online shoppers in areas where the soft plastics recycling scheme is in place will be able to return their soft plastics to the delivery driver for recycling.
Chambers says Countdown considered introducing a charge on single-use plastic bags, but decided it was not the right option: "Charging is also not the ideal outcome for the environment, because these bags are still provided.”
Further Progressive Enterprises brands SuperValue and Fresh Choice have also indicated an interest in phasing out plastic bags, but are yet to finalise their transition deadline. Both brands are currently trialling compostable and paper bags.
New World is currently running an online poll at Bagvote.co.nz asking consumers whether it should introduce a 5 or 10 cent charge for bags, or not introduce a charge. The poll does not include an option for phasing out bags.
When The Register readers were polled on election issues during September, there was a strong appetite for banning single-use plastic bags at a national level. More than 63 percent of respondents indicated support for this course of action, with comments including a call for a plastics levy or the re-introduction of paper bags.
UPDATE: Retail NZ has thrown its support behind Countdown, and congratulated all retailers that have taken steps to reduce the number of plastic bags being issued.
"Retail NZ congratulates Countdown for its decision to go bag-free by the end of next year," Greg Harford, Retail NZ's general manager for public affairs said today. "There is increasing customer demand for action by retailers on plastic bags, and we have also seen New World recently launch bagvote.co.nz to ask its customers whether or not it should introduce a charge on bags. A number of other retailers have also taken action, and we think this will increase over time.
"Ultimately, retailers will be led by their customers. Customers have traditionally expected a bag when they go shopping, but there seems to have been a change in public opinion, and retailers are responding to that."
Harford says industry action such as that taken by Countdown should not be seen as an excuse by the government to "dodge its responsibilities", however. Retail NZ feels it's important that any solution regarding plastic bags is universal and applies to all retailers.
"Many businesses in the retail sector are trying hard to reduce their environmental impacts, and government leadership through regulation is still required to ensure that there is a clear, consistent and universal approach across the sector," Harford says.