Coles is following the lead of Woolworths by announcing a plan to eliminate soft-plastic shopping bags from its stores and online orders by the end of June, in an effort to reduce unnecessary plastic packaging at the checkout.
The move, which is expected to eliminate 230 million plastic bags from circulation in one year, has been called a "significant commitment" to sustainability by Coles Group's Chief Operations and Sustainability Officer, Matt Swindells.
"The most sustainable option is to bring your own reusable bag to the supermarket," Mr Swindells said. "But for those who forget, we will continue to sell 100 per cent recycled paper bags that can be recycled kerbside, as well as other reusable options."
Plastic bag alternatives on offer
Coles customers can also select from a range of reusable tote bags that retail for $1 and $2.50 for the large size, and chiller bags for $2.50 each.
From next week, paper bags will be used for home delivery and Click&Collect orders where customers also have a bag-free option.
"The 100% recycled paper bags have been tested for use and we're confident they can hold up to six kilos of goods. That includes everything you need to make spaghetti bolognese or a family roast," Mr Swindells added.
Coles had previously removed single-use plastic carry bags at checkouts in 2018, which saved around 14,000 tonnes of plastic from being produced each year.
Bags manufactured overseas
One thing not highlighted in the Coles marketing material about their paper and reusable tote bags is that both are manufactured in Vietnam, a representative for the company has confirmed with Yahoo News.
The news comes after rival Woolworths received backlash over their paper bags being produced in Asia, as customers were concerned that Aussie manufacturers were losing out on lucrative contracts.
There's been no word yet on whether Coles plans to move production to Australia, but Woolies says they're "working with two Australian manufacturers to source as many locally made paper bags as possible".
More sustainability initiatives from Coles
In addition to the 100 per cent recycled paper bags, Coles offers reusable fresh produce bags made from 90 per cent recycled material. Meanwhile, plastic bags made with 50 per cent recycled plastic remain available in the fresh produce department, excluding in the ACT where they have been replaced with compostable bags made from plant-based corn starch.
To further reduce the use of bags across the business, Coles is piloting a new initiative called Swap-a-box in selected states that allows customers to opt for a reusable box when making Click&Collect orders.
"The decision to no longer offer soft-plastic bags at the checkout is proof of our commitment to reduce the amount of plastic used in our stores and online," Mr Swindells said.
Customers demand more action on plastic
"We are always looking for new ways to reduce our environmental impact and are proud to take this important step towards a more sustainable future," Mr Swindells added, however shoppers recently called out Coles over the excessive use of plastic packaging in stores.
Last month, a Coles shopper shared photos of single cookies in plastic containers, prompting the supermarket to defend its commitment to sustainability. "Coles Bakery cookies use packaging that is recyclable and made with 100% recycled plastic. This is one of the many initiatives Coles has adopted as part of our Together to Zero waste ambition, to reduce problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics packaging in our Coles Own Brand product packaging," a spokesperson told Yahoo News at the time.
In response, environmental scientist and author of The Plasticology Project, Dr Paul Harvey warned consumers there is much debate in Australia regarding the precise meaning of the term "100% recycled" and said Coles could do more to reduce plastic waste.
'Time to get serious'
"Plastic is a valuable resource that is also polluting the planet. It should not be wasted on ridiculous applications like single-wrapped cookies," Dr Harvey said. "Given that globally we are in the grip of a plastic pollution pandemic, I can't fathom the decision-making process that led to Coles thinking it is acceptable to individually package cookies. It is time to get serious about reducing plastic in stores."
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