'What the hell?' Tiny detail on Woolworths bag angers customer

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The replacement of a tiny symbol on Woolworths’ paper bags has left some environmentalists concerned.

While shopping at a store in Victoria's Yarra Valley, wildlife conservationist Jordan Crook noticed yesterday the supermarket has changed the company who certifies the paper used in its bags.

"What the bloody hell is going on, Woolies?" he asks in a video posted to Twitter.

Comparing his new bag to an older one, he found the renowned FSC logo of the Forest Stewardship Council had been replaced with the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification’s PEFC branding.

It is a result of the supermarket switching from China-made paper bags to an Australian product.

Three images showing the difference between Woolworths bags. Left - an FSC bag. Right - a PEFC bag. Centre - both bags side by side.
Some Woolworths bags now bare the PEFC logo rather than FSC. Source: Jordan Crook

“I won't be going back to Woolworths,” Mr Crook told Yahoo News Australia.

“It’s more disappointing, and more of a slap in the face that they started good, and now they've got this other product.”

Wilderness Society national campaigns director, Amelia Young believes there are “key differences” between the FSC and PEFC schemes.

She argues that by purchasing products accredited by FSC, a company the Wilderness Society is a member of, consumers are ensured endangered species are protected. 

In particular Ms Young said the harvesting of koala habitat in NSW and critically endangered mountain ash forest in Victoria has been rejected by FSC. 

"FSC is not without its faults but... it is certainly the standard that companies like Woolworths should be attaining," she said.

Woolworths now making bags in Australia, not China

The change in accreditation occurred after Woolworths announced in December it would transition its paper bag manufacturing from China to a factory in South Australia.

While the bags are made from 70 per cent recycled paper, the remaining pulp is sourced from harvested trees, and they were not certified by FSC for this portion of the product.

A koala in NSW walking towards the camera.
Wilderness Society says FSC branding ensures koalas in NSW do not have their habitat logged. Source: Getty

Woolworths have insisted on additional protocols on top of PEFC guidelines and said they are working towards acquiring FSC approval.

“We’ve done our own traceability and risk assessments for our Australian paper suppliers to ensure they meet our responsible sourcing standards in addition to PEFC certification,” they said in a statement.

“Our locally produced bags are made of 70 per cent recycled paper, with the remaining paper coming from responsibly managed Australian plantations. Importantly, none of the new paper used in our bags is sourced from native forests.”

“We’re currently working towards FSC certification with our paper supplier and expect to offer our customers Australian-made FSC paper bags in the future.”

Despite the assurances from Woolworths about using plantation timber, Mr Crook said he will need to see the FSC stamp on their bags in order to trust the provenance of their products. 

"(FSC) gives weight to threatened species and the wishes of traditional owners and Indigenous people," he said.

"It asks for more from the logging industry."

FSC 'almost identical' to PEFC says company CEO

Despite many environmental groups having preferences about its accreditation scheme, Simon Dorries, CEO of Responsible Wood which administers PEFC in Australia, said its certification is actually “almost identical” to FSC.

He points to a recent report by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which found both companies similarly comply with their Responsible Investment in Food, Agriculture and Forestry guidelines, with PEFC scoring slightly higher.

“We both have good, credible and robust standards,” he said.

“FSC has been developed by the environmental movement, while PEFC originally comes from family forest growers in Europe, but our sustainability indicators are remarkably similar.”

Both FSC and PEFC accredit timber used in packaging and paper bags. Source: Getty
Both FSC and PEFC accredit timber used in packaging and paper bags. Source: Getty

FSC Australia and New Zealand CEO Damien Paull said his certification scheme is the only one in Australia that has “broad support” from social, economic and environmental stakeholders.

“(This includes) leading environmental groups like WWF, the Wilderness Society, and Greenpeace, and FSC’s standard is generally considered the gold standard. WWF, for example, do not support harvesting of native forests in Australia unless it is to FSC's standard.”

“FSC Australia's standard for forest management provides the highest level of protection for rare and threatened species and their habitats, as well as high conservation values like old-growth forest."

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