How much plastic do Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and IGA use?

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·Environment Editor
·3-min read
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As NSW's plastic bag ban goes live today, environmentalists are concerned retailers will simply replace lightweight products with heavier checkout options.

Jeff Angel from non-profit Boomerang Alliance warns thicker supermarket bags must be designed so they can be used hundreds of times, and not be thrown away after a single use.

“We don’t want to have the same problem with the next tranche of items like heavyweight bags,” he said.

Plastic bags make up approximately 14 per cent of ocean trash. Source: AAP / Getty
Plastic bags make up approximately 14 per cent of ocean trash. Source: AAP / Getty

As NSW has been the last state to implement a single-use bag ban, Australia’s supermarkets have already phased them out at the checkout.

But are the supermarkets genuinely cutting their plastic use, or are we being greenwashed?

Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and IGA quizzed about plastic use

We asked Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and IGA seven questions to get a better understanding of their use of plastic, along with fuel use and food wastage.

Approximately 24.4 trillion pieces of microplastic line the world's upper oceans.
Approximately 24.4 trillion pieces of microplastic line the world's upper oceans.

The questions asked differed slightly for each outlet, but in summary covered the following:

  • How many plastic bags do you sell each year?

  • What percentage of your corn is wrapped in plastic?

  • What percentage of your fruit and vegetables are wrapped in plastic?

  • How many tiny fruit stickers do you turn over each year?

  • How much petrol do you use each year?

  • Why do you package your bread in plastic not paper?

  • How much fruit, vegetables and meat do you throw away each year?

Not one question was directly answered by any of the supermarkets.

This means they either don't know how much plastic they're using, or don't want to reveal it.

What the supermarkets had to say about sustainability

Instead they shared a number of statements about their plastic reduction and sustainability goals.

“In the last year alone, we’ve removed more than 5,800 tonnes of virgin plastic from our stores and we plan to keep that momentum as we continue to reduce plastic and increase our use of recycled content,” a Woolworths spokesperson said.

“As part of our Together to Zero waste ambition, Coles is working towards reducing problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics packaging in our Coles Own Brand product packaging,” a Coles spokesperson said.

ALDI highlighted that they have never provided free plastic carrier bags, which the organisation says avoided over 55,000 tonnes of plastic entering the environment.

Coles and Woolworths have already phased out single-use plastic bags at the checkout. Source: AAP
Coles and Woolworths have already phased out single-use plastic bags at the checkout. Source: AAP

IGA’s parent company Metcash said their 1400 stores are independently operated and they could not provide calculations of overall plastic use, but added at a wholesale level they have reduced the thickness of their stretch film used for pallet wrapping.

Plastic bag facts you probably didn't know

  • Plastic bags make up approximately 14 per cent of all trash in the ocean.

  • Before 2018, it's estimated Coles and Woolworths gave away 5.7 billion bags a year.

  • Around 5 trillion plastic bags are produced across the world each year.

More supermarket sustainability facts

  • Woolworths sells a paper shopping bag made from at least 70 per cent recycled materials.

  • Coles fresh produce bags are made with 50 per cent recycled plastic.

  • ALDI has never provided free plastic bags at its checkout.

Supermarket sustainability commitments

While these announcements could be genuinely effective in reducing their impact on the environment, a lack of transparency makes understanding their true impact on the planet hard to grasp.

For instance, Woolworths does genuinely good work donating excess food to charity, including wildlife groups, however how much product they continue to throw away remains a mystery.

The questions came as Coles announced it would be pledging $10 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef and Aldi released its inaugural Sustainability Progress Report.

This report highlighted their 2025 renewable energy target and zero waste commitment.

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