Retail

Shop owners risk $50,000 fines to clear stock as Victoria’s bag ban comes into force

Matthew Elmas /

Victorian small business owners are still handing out single-use plastic bags to customers on request, running the risk of being slapped with hefty fines as the state’s bag ban comes into force. 

These retailers are working to clear stocks of old plastic bags to keep down costs, although they say customers are broadly accepting the changes.

Victoria’s long-anticipated bag ban came into effect at the start of November, and with almost a weeks trading under their belts, retailers SmartCompany has spoken to in recent days say the ban is creating more work for them in the short-term, with hiccups involving training staff and investigating alternative bags.

Businesses are now banned from handing out lightweight plastic shopping bags with a thickness of 35 microns or less, with penalties of up to almost $50,000 for those who don’t comply.

Several shop owners SmartCompany has spoken to say they hadn’t heard about the impending ban until recently and want to clear through existing bag stocks to avoid excess costs.

“I’ve still got thousands [of bags] to get through,” one suburban shop owner said.

Victoria’s bag ban has been implemented against a national backdrop of efforts to tackle plastic waste, as business owners and shoppers across the country come to terms with the various ways life will need to change if Australia is to do its bit in addressing the global plastic waste crisis.

But while some retailers are not yet complying with the new rules, other small businesses are welcoming the change.

Simon Peterson, owner of Pepper Cafe in the Melbourne suburb of Flemington, is one such business owner. Speaking to SmartCompany this morning, he says his customers have been talking about the change over the last week.

“People come in and talk about how the costs have risen,” Peterson says.

Pepper Cafe has been handing out paper bags for some time instead of plastic ones, a shift Peterson says has been good for business, particularly with progressive-minded regulars in Melbourne.

“I’m part of the generation that was probably at fault for it all, but these younger generations coming through are quite savvy on the environment, and it’s taught me even more,” Peterson says.

“We switched because it’s the right thing to do.”

Peterson says paper has been a reasonably priced bag alternative for his business, enabling him to ditch plastic while creating a high-quality experience for customers.

“Most people don’t use them twice”

Independent supermarkets across Victoria have been putting up signs in their shops over the last few months warning customers about the impending ban, a move designed to temper possible customer frustration with making the switch.

National chains Woolworths and Coles ignited a storm of criticism over their handling of single-use plastic bag bans within their own businesses last year, prompting independents to fear they could suffer the same.

But according to Mount Evelyn IGA owner Tony Ingpen, also a Master Grocers Association committee member, shoppers are adjusting, with garbage bag sales spiking over the weekend as access to single-use bags decreases.

“Customers have definitely got better; they used to forget to bring bags in far more often,” Ingpen tells SmartCompany.

But Ingpen says many independents are handing out ‘re-useable’ plastic bags that come close to the 36-micron ban threshold, questioning whether shoppers are actually bringing them back in.

“You look at them and it just appears like a normal shopping bag,” Ingpen says.

“I’m pretty confident most people don’t use them twice.”

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Matthew Elmas

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

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