Retail

“You will get difficult customers”: Small retailers warned to prepare as VIC bag ban looms

Matthew Elmas /

It will be illegal for Victorian retailers to supply customers with single-use plastic bags from November, after the Andrews Government introduced new laws to tackle plastic waste on Wednesday.

The yet-to-be-passed reforms come after over a year of posturing from Victoria’s legislators, and will give businesses less than four months to prepare.

The ban will apply to all retailers, including supermarkets, fashion boutiques, fast food outlets, convenience stores and service stations,

It will cover only lightweight plastic bags with a thickness of 35 microns or less.

But, because many larger brands, including Coles, Woolworths and independents under the IGA banner, phased out the bags last year, the laws are likely to affect mum-and-dad retail businesses the most.

Victoria uses over a billion plastic bags each year, the majority of which end up in landfill, while 10 million are estimated to finish their lives as litter.

It is hoped the ban will drastically reduce these figures. The announcement means NSW will soon be the only state without its own single-use plastic bag ban, with regulation already introduced and implemented elsewhere.

“Plastic pollution is a significant environmental problem the actions we take now will help ensure Victoria has a clean and bright future,” Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio said in a statement.

“The feedback on this one was clear. Victorians want to do more to protect the environment from the damage litter causes and are overwhelmingly supportive of banning single-use plastic shopping bags.”

Businesses will have until 31 October to use up their current stocks of single-use bags and organise an alternative solution.

Wide range of alternatives available

The National Retailers Association (NRA) has launched a dedicated website to assist small businesses with preparing for the ban.

The retail body’s manager of policy David Stout said there are plenty of alternatives out there for businesses.

“All businesses currently using plastic shopping bags face important business decisions over the next few months,” he said in a statement.

“For many businesses, giving a free plastic bag to every customer incurs substantial cost, and current sentiment presents an opportunity to reconsider that habit.

“There is a wide range of alternatives out there now, and each choice could either increase or reduce business costs, not to mention impact on consumer perception of their business.”

When Woolworths phased out single-use plastic bags it copped a wave of customer anger. When Coles did the same, it was later forced to admit the move hurt its bottom line.

“You will get difficult customers”

Mount Evelyn IGA owner Tony Ingpen phased out the bags last year, and concedes “difficult customers” are inevitable.

“You’ve got extremes in the world, you have people who never want to use a plastic bag, then you’ve got people who think it’s a crock,” he tells SmartCompany.

“You are not going to convince people who think its a crock … you will get difficult customers.”

Having already gone through the phase-out as an independent retailer, Ingpen advises businesses to get out in front of the change and begin putting up signs to educate customers now.

“We gave everyone a month’s notice and made a really big display about it in-store,” he says.

Profiteer at your peril

Ingpen says one of the keys to avoiding customer anger is to avoid profiteering off new bag options, or being seen to.

Woolworths copped a significant amount of heat last year over claims they were making money selling 10c and 15c bags.

The company denied those claims, and Woolworths Group chief executive Brad Banducci was upset by the suggestions at the time.

Ingpen says the saga turned into a “storm in a teacup”, advising businesses phasing out single-use plastic bags in the coming months to be upfront with customers.

“Realistically, this is the last bit that makes it law, but the customer expectation as a whole is clear.

“They want businesses to come up with a better solution, whether that’s paper or a thicker reusable bag,” he says.

NOW READ: Coles’ plastic bag backflip did lead to a drop in sales, Wesfarmers boss says

NOW READ: Why this small business owner has seen a 260% increase in sales thanks to the plastic bag ban

 

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].