Woolworths reveals new 'trendy' plastic bag plan

Woolworths is trialling a new sustainability initiative in select South Australian supermarkets to drive down the impact of plastic on the environment.

A customer posted a photo to a Facebook group dedicated to sharing tips on reducing waste from inside a supermarket of a reel of plastic bags next to a display of apples.

A sign next to the produce bags informed customers Woolworths was trialling a new type that could be reused.

"You can use this bag for food scraps and place in your green bin," the sign states.

New biodegradable bags seen on a reel in a Woolworths supermarket.
Woolworths are trialling new bags in the produce section. Source: Facebook

The initiative was praised by customers online who called it a "good idea".

"I ordered online this week and all my produce arrived like this. Very happy," one commented.

"Good idea. I never use these plastic bags, just buy the fruit and veg loose," another said.

"I have fabric bags but sometimes I forget them so these sort if bags are a great alternative," a third added.

"We eat lots of veggies so I prefer to buy fresh. It also avoids the plastic bags that frozen vegges are in."

The trial was rolled out in 10 Adelaide stores, including Kilkenny, Modbury Heights, Christies Beach, Hallett Cove, Northgate, Marryatville, Walkerville, Morphett Vale, Unley and Glenelg and is due to end in the current days.

Woolworths conducted the trial in South Australia as household access to council-provided composting is limited in other states.

"South Australia leads the nation in household composting, with almost 80 per cent of the population having access to council-provided green organic bins. This made it a great place to test sustainable alternatives like this," a Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia in a statement.

"While many customers have welcomed the trial, a number told us the bag isn't large enough. We'll be returning to our regular bags until we can source a more suitable option to test with customers.

"The compostable industry is constantly developing and we'll continue to look for more sustainable produce bag alternatives that meet our customers' needs."

Woolworths' plan a 'smart idea'

Professor in sustainable manufacturing at UNSW, Sami Kara, told Yahoo News Australia implementing the trial was a smart move.

"It's a good initiative that's geared towards reducing consumption," he said.

"It's what we call cascading use – you use it for the original purpose then you use it for something else.

"It's a smart idea and a nice way to reuse these bags."

Professor Kara said introducing the biodegradable bags would lower the impact on the environment.

General photo of Woolworth in Melbourne.
Woolworths has been praised for the trial. Source: AAP

"Biodegradable is quite trendy at the moment – the bags supermarkets sell for dog poo and things like that are biodegradable and councils provide them in parks," he said.

"Even if it goes to landfill it still degrades quickly. It doesn't mean it doesn't have any environmental impact, but it's a lost smaller than single-use plastic bags that take years to degrade."

Professor Kara said biodegradable bags were made from a plant source and if the consumption exceeded the growth rate of the plant, they could be unsustainable.

He said however Woolworths was moving in the right direction with the trial.

"Relatively speaking there will be less of an environmental footprint rather than if you used oil-based plastic bags," he said.

Woolworths vows to reduce plastic by 2023

The move to introduce biodegradable bags in the produce section comes after Woolworths and Coles banned single-use plastic bags in 2018.

Three months after banning single-use bags, there was an 80 per cent drop in the consumption of plastic bags nationwide, according to the National Retail Association (NRA).

“Indeed, some retailers are reporting reduction rates as high as 90 per cent,” NRA’s David Stout said at the time.

A shopper carrying a reusable shopping bag is seen at a Woolworths supermarket.
Woolworths banned single-use plastic bags in 2018. Source: AAP

In March, Woolworths also expressed support for a national approach to banning single-use plastics.

Woolworths and the NRA said they would like to see a uniform approach to single-use plastic bans across all states.

Woolworths general manager Alex Holt spoke to the Australian Financial Review about “the importance of consistency” in reducing the reliance on plastic.

“Reducing plastic in favour of more sustainable packaging is a priority for many of our customers and we have committed to make all of our own brand packaging widely recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2023,” Ms Holt said.

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