Retailers question 10c plastic bag trial

A trial to gauge consumers’ support for a 10c charge on plastic shopping bags will go ahead after being given the green light by the competition watchdog, but retail groups say they doubt the experiment’s value.

A trial to gauge consumers’ support for a 10c charge on plastic shopping bags will go ahead after being given the green light by the competition watchdog, but retail groups say they doubt the experiment’s value.

A handful of Woolworths, Coles and IGA supermarkets in Victoria will charge shoppers 10c for each plastic shopping bag they use during the trial, which will run for four weeks in August.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission yesterday granted approval to the scheme, a step required because the companies will agree to charge the same price for the bags.

The purpose of the scheme, co-ordinated by the Australian National Retailers Association and the Victorian Government, is to collect data on consumer attitudes to a plastic bag levy that will inform government deliberations on possible plastic bag policies.

But groups representing that nation’s smaller and independent grocers argue that whatever the outcome from the trial, there are few good reasons to restrict the use of plastic bags by a levy or ban.

National Association of Retail Grocers of Australia chief executive Ken Henrick says it is not clear what realistic alternative to plastic bag use would improve environmental outcomes.

I don’t know what they think the objective of all this is – nothing sensible I can see,” Henrick says. “If the answer is durable green bags, they are made from polypropolene. That is much more expensive to make and distribute and takes up 10 times the landfill space when they reach the end of their useful life.”

Henrick says very few plastic bags go straight into the litter once the shopping is brought home and unpacked.

“Most people find plastic shopping bags useful, they use them as bag liners or to clean up after their dog or all sorts of things; most are reused as bin liners – they are almost always reused,” Henrick says.

Australian Retailers Association executive director Richard Evans is equally doubtful about the need for reduced plastic bag usage and says more consumers may come to that view once they have to pay for their view.

And even if the trial does result in diminished plastic bag use, there are many big questions that will remain unanswered before any bag tax could get off the drawing board, he says.

“Even if we agree that consumers will pay 10c for a bag Australia-wide, we will need to figure out where the money should go, how it will be managed, what kinds of sanctions there will be if someone doesn’t charge the levy, and how health and safety concerns will be addressed – and it could be total confusion,” Evans says.

 

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