Man takes Coles to court for refusing to pack his 'dirty and wrinkled' grocery bags

Josh Dutton
News Reporter

A Sydney man has taken Coles to court for refusing to pack his grocery bags.

Lance Tyrrell, 64, has shopped at his Coles in Greenacre, in Sydney’s southwest, for many years, but ran into a problem with staff after single-use plastic bags were phased out of supermarkets in NSW in 2018.

Mr Tyrrell continued to reuse the single-use bags during his trips to the grocery chain’s store despite the introduction of reusable plastic bags.

But one day, Mr Tyrrell claimed to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal staff refused to pack his old bags, which he said wasn’t an issue before reusables were introduced.

Coles told the tribunal staff didn’t pack the bags for Mr Tyrrell because they weren’t clean.

Mr Tyrrell claimed staff didn’t tell him the bags weren’t clean.

Lance Tyrrell claims Coles staff wouldn't pack his single use plastic bags like the one pictured here. Source: AAP (file pic)

“Some of them were just saying straight out, ‘I’m sorry’. They weren’t saying anything that they were dirty or whatever,” he said.

“They were saying ‘Sorry, you can’t use those bags, you actually have to buy our new ones’.”

The 64-year-old claimed Coles discriminated against him due to his disability and age. Mr Tyrrell took his complaint before the Anti-Discrimination Board.

The board’s president noted Mr Tyrrell has “several physical disabilities” which included tendinitis, “chronic back pain” and the need for a walking stick. The board escalated this to the tribunal after the complaint couldn’t be resolved at reconciliation.

Mr Tyrrell claimed Coles acted discriminately adding he is “unable to access the store’s home delivery service”.

He also provided some of his single-use plastic bags, which he claimed were clean, as evidence.

A witness, who gave a statutory declaration, said Mr Tyrrell’s bags are “clean and smell of lavender”. 

“He reuses them and are free of damage with no holes. He washes them each time he uses them,” he said.

The witness added “Lance is well known to me and of impeccable character”.

‘Dirty and wrinkled up’ bags

Store manager Eliaz Housil told the tribunal in a statement Mr Tyrrell’s bags were “dirty and wrinkled up” when visiting the store in December 2018. The tribunal disregarded this as “in dispute” due to the bags provided as evidence.

Coles said it doesn’t force customers to pay 15c for reusable bags unless they want to. 

Bags can be reused as long as they are clean and not torn, the supermarket told the tribunal.

The supermarket added Mr Tyrrell can use any bags he wishes “as long as they are clean” and while there isn’t any obligation for staff to pack his bags, if they won’t Mr Housil has agreed to do so if he’s available.

Mr Tyrrell was also offered the reusable 15c bags for free but turned them down because “these bags do not suit his needs due to his disability”.

He said the new bags are “too big” and “things jump around in them and they can get broken or shift and they flop around his legs”. He added even the smaller ones are too large.

Coles has offered to give Mr Tyrrell reusable bags for free. Source: AAP (file pic)

Many supermarkets offered free reusable plastic bags as part of the transition period between the move from single-use to reusable ones.

The tribunal found Mr Tyrrell is disabled and considered on occasions, due to the bags provided as evidence, he had brought a number to the store in good condition.

However, the tribunal couldn’t uphold Mr Tyrrell’s discrimination claim.

It cited three reasons - the first being the determination no requirement or condition was placed upon staff to refuse to pack Mr Tyrrell’s bags whether they were clean or damaged.

Many supermarkets gave away reusable bags for a period such as indicated by this sign. Mr Tyrrell received some but claims he couldn't use them. Source: AAP (file pic)

Secondly, it was determined whether the bags were dirty or not as a difference of opinion between Mr Tyrrell and supermarket staff.

The tribunal also considered there may have been “teething issues” with staff not knowing whether to pack Mr Tyrrell’s bags during the period where reusables were introduced.

It was noted Mr Tyrell “has not actually tested whether the staff will pack his small grey bags” outside the transition period.

Mr Tyrrell also could have obtained another bag “small enough and light enough to be suitable to his purposes”.

“Mr Tyrrell did not provide any evidence, statistical or otherwise, as to the proportion of shoppers without the relevant disability who are able to comply with the alleged requirement or condition of presenting with bags other than the small grey bags compared with those who have the relevant disability,” the tribunal said.

“We are not satisfied in the absence of evidence that it could be said that a substantially higher proportion of shoppers who do not have Mr Tyrrell’s disability are able to comply with the requirement or condition that they present with a bag other than the small grey bags.”

The claim was dismissed.

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