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Australians have used 1.5 billion fewer single-use plastic bags in just three months

Shireen Khalil and AAP, December 4, 2018 7:04AM

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Rubbish piled up in landfill. Picture: iStock media_cameraRubbish piled up in landfill. Picture: iStock


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In just three months, Australians’ plastic bag use has dropped by 80 per cent, which means 1.5 billion fewer bags to go to landfill.

The drop in plastic use has come since supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths stopped giving away single-use bags earlier this year.

Although some shoppers initially struggled to deal with the change, many have applauded the supermarket companies for leading an environmental change.

media_cameraSome customers found the change to their shopping routine difficult, so Woolworths handed out free reusable bags for a short time. Picture: AAP

The National Retail* Association (NRA), which speaks on behalf of Australian shop owners, said that the 80 per cent drop in plastic bag use is just the beginning.

“Indeed, some retailers are reporting reduction rates as high as 90 per cent,” NRA’s David Stout told news agency AAP.

media_cameraA shopper carrying a reusable plastic bag at a Coles store in July. Picture: AAP

Mr Stout said the ban was a “brave” move from the major supermarkets and it’s paving the way for smaller businesses, who typically* can’t afford to risk upsetting their customers, to follow.

“They’re (supermarkets) obviously seen as the product stewards* so a lot of people will come back to them,” Mr Stout said.

media_cameraA reusable bag from Woolworths, which stopped providing single-use plastic bags in NSW, Qld, Victoria and WA on June 20. Picture: AAP

“Obviously the best thing for smaller businesses is to either engineer* out the bag completely or have the customer pay,” he said. “They should be able to consider that strategy without fear of backlash*.”

Mr Stout said that everyone delivering things in a package needs to take responsibility for what they deliver it in.

“I think there’s going to be a lot more pressure on all of us to be more aware of what we consume,” he told AAP.

NSW is the only state or territory in the country without at least a commitment* to ban single-use bags (beyond Coles, Woolworths and other shops’ own bans), with Victoria promising to phase them out in 2019.

VIDEO: Queensland Premier Anastacia Palazczuk at SeaWorld launching Queensland’s plastic-bag ban on July 1, 2018

Mr Stout said everyone will benefit from continued reduction in single-use plastic packaging.

“For business, for the environment, for the consumer and of course even for councils which have to work to remove these things from landfills, there’s a multitude* of benefits on a whole to doing this.”

Dumpsters being full with garbage media_cameraA big pile of landfill, all wrapped up in single-use plastic bags. Although Australians are using less single-use plastic, there’s still plenty more we can do. Picture: iStock

He is hopeful major retailers will continue to lead the charge towards a more sustainable industry and move to ban other single-use packaging options.

Target and Kmart have committed to stop providing single-use bags by 2019.


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  • retail: relating to shops
  • typically: usually
  • stewards: people who help guide something or make it happen
  • engineer: design a solution
  • backlash: bad feeling and reaction in response to something
  • commitment: promise
  • multitude: lots, many



  1. What percentage has our plastic bag use reduced by?
  2. How many plastic bags fewer does that mean we have used?
  3. What happened that led to this change in our behaviour?
  4. Why was it important for supermarkets to lead on this?
  5. Which two states don’t yet have a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags?

1. Selling the change
As retailers phase out plastic bags it is important for them to communicate the changes to their customers so that the customers understand what is happening and don’t become disgruntled with the retailer.

Create a short message for customers about your favourite store to let them know about the changes in a way that will help them to understand that this is a good thing rather than an inconvenience — that is, sell the change to them.

Your message can take the form of: a message that could be printed on the bottom of receipts; a poster to display in store; or a radio advertisement.

2. Extension
Create a graph showing the change in plastic bag use since Coles and Woolworths changed their policies.

Time: Allow 20 minutes
Curriculum links: English, Mathematics

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Has your family used fewer plastic bags? Has it been hard or easy? What more can you do to reduce how much single-use plastic your family uses? No one-word answers. Use full sentences to share your thinking.

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