So today Woolies (followed closely by Coles) announced that they're gonna 'ban the bag' from all their stores by June 2018. I've seen a lot of people celebrating this on social media as a "war on waste" victory, but what Woolies/Coles (is their mashup name Woles or Collies?! I'm gonna go with Woles) have actually announced is that they're only going to stop using the lightweight 'single use' bags and will still provide *and charge* customers for thicker heavier plastic bags.
I appreciate this is a small step forwards but it must be said, THIS IS NOT BANNING BAGS. This is no longer providing one kind of plastic bag and instead selling heaps more of another kind of plastic bag. Hey Woles, here's an idea, when you say you're banning bags, actually ban bags!
Woolies have stated they currently give away 3.2 billion single use bags a year. So next year they'll charge 15c per bag for their thicker plastic bag, turn a filthy-bad profit (even if they only sell a quarter of what they've been giving away the figures are phenomenal), they'll lie to themselves and to their customers about how green their initiatives are and will continue behaving irresponsibly. Those bags will provide a massive income stream for the two primary supermarket chains of our sad little borderline-duopoly. I may be an ice cube of hope floating in a glass half-full of positivity, but I'm not quite naive enough to think that people will see this for what it is, and take their reusable bags (and their business) elsewhere.
Full disclosure: I don't shop at Coles or Woolies because I don't want either of them to get my money. I believe both brands are responsible for ridiculous and unnecessary volumes of food waste at production and store levels, they both over package produce and support the sale and promotion of goods that increase post-consumer waste. Both have also systematically brand-washed their shelves to the detriment of local businesses, and now produce their own over-packed and over-processed foods, loaded with preservatives and other additives that are long suspected triggers of behavioural issues, asthma and digestive disorders. Yet both brands continue to succeed because people keep giving them their money! Woles have manipulated their customers using false rewards that are designed to make people spend more, but beyond their points programs, there are rewards for particular modes of shopping. Save a tiny little bit of money by spending more money when you buy two instead of just one, even though you don't need them both!
Aren't we all tired of lapping up this branded affluent? It's time to stop listening to brands' rhetoric and start taking notice of their actions. Are they making decisions based on their ledgers or on what's happening in the real world? And when they act badly are we responding accordingly or do we reward them by continuing to spend our money in their stores? I'm not trying to instigate some kind of Woles bag burning party or anything, I just want people to realise their own power. People own brands, not the other way way round. So when those brands do bad by us why shouldn't we disown them? They don't actually deserve our money!
You may believe Woles are doing the best they can by banning one kind of bag but not another, small steps in the right direction and all that, but I believe they can do better. Woles have created a wonderfully orchestrated money-grabbing greenwash. They will stop giving out one kind of bag, a move that saves them money. Meanwhile, they will continue to offer another kind of bag and charge for it, a move that will make them loads more money. Many people who use single use plastic bags will continue to use plastic bags (ka-ching go the registers!) Well played. You've replaced something bad with something else that's also bad but you'll make a lot of money from it and you've managed to badge it up as a good sustainability initiative and got some tops media out of it to-boot. Yep, well played everybody. Good hustle.
Am I being too cynical? Maybe. Am I being cynical enough? Maybe not. I've carried a reusable cloth bag in my handbag for over 20 years and I really don't think it's that hard to do.
Maybe it's time to stop pretending like we're doing something amazing, actually ban the bag, and stop polluting our planet with plastics we don't need.