The Great Plastic Shopping Bag Swindle

Updated on June 30, 2018
Pip Stone profile image

A self-professed "progservative," Pip started writing for HubPages in June 2018.

A "green" reusable shopping bag as sold to replace single-use plastic bags.
A "green" reusable shopping bag as sold to replace single-use plastic bags. | Source

As Green As A $100 Note

The decision by Australia’s supermarket giants, Coles and Woolworths to do away with single-use plastic shopping bags has nothing to do with the environment, and everything to do with profit.

Between them, the two chains give away over six billion single-use plastic bags a year. At an average cost of three cents per bag, Coles and Woolies stand to save AU$180 million a year.

The demise of the single-use bag provides another cost to the Australian consumer – and a windfall to the supermarkets, with customers forced to purchase replacements.

When you consider that fact that woven reusable bags cost 10 cents to 25 cents to produce°, the true motives of the supermarkets become apparent.

The Cost Of Going Green

Bag Type
• Thick plastic reusable bag
• Canvas bag
Plastic mix tote bag
• Plastic mix shoulder bag
• Chiller bag
• Jute (vegetable fibre) bag
As Australia no longer issues one and two cent coins, the costs of canvas and chiller bags from Woolworths will be rounded up at the checkout.

She Blinded Me With Science

In 2009, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) conducted a study into reusable “green” shopping bags³.

It found that if the bags were used once a week for one year, the impact on climate change would actually be greater than the single-use plastics available at present.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the study’s author, Associate Prof. Karli Verghese of RMIT said that a so-called green bag needs to be used weekly for two years to have any impact.

The study also found that more material and energy is required to make the reusable bags than single-use plastic bags.

The case for reusable shopping bags is not helped by the fact that the majority are made from mixed plastics. This means that at the end of their three expected life-span, they cannot be easily recycled.

In fact, due to their colour, most can only be converted into black bin liners, a highly energy-intensive process.

Many of the expensive replacements for the single-use plastic shopping bag, whilst recyclable to some degree, are not biodegradable 4.

A sight that will soon become a thing of the past.
A sight that will soon become a thing of the past. | Source

Waste Not, Want Not

The fact is that so-called single-use plastic bags do get used more than once. Countless Australians reuse their shopping bags.

Examples of single-use bags being repurposed include -

  • bin liners
  • picking up after dogs on walks and in the garden
  • protecting plants from frost
  • freezer bags
  • laundry bag when travelling
  • tying plants to stakes
  • litter tray liners
  • donate them to op shops (US/UK - thrift/charity shop)
  • pet cushion stuffing

Red-light Special On Hypocrisy

For many observers, the thing that most calls into question the motives of Woolworths and Coles is the fact that they are only scrapping single-use shopping bags.

The single-use plastic produce bags for taking your loose fruit and vegetables are staying. Similarly, both chains will continue to sell single-use plastic freezer bags, lunch bags, bin liners, and food cling-wrap. Both Woolworths and Coles will continue to sell their house branded cheese, delicatessen goods and pre-packed salads in single-use plastic bags and containers.

Whilst single-use disposable plastic cutlery, plates and bowls remain on shelves, Woolworths has announced in an email to their loyalty card holders (of which I am one), that by the end of 2018, plastic drinking straws will no longer be available.

The Elephant In The Baby Care Aisle

If the climate alarmists and flat Earth devotees really want to deal with plastic waste, I would recommend starting in the baby care aisle.

According to figures from the State Government of Victoria, every day, 3.75 million disposable nappies (diapers) are used across Australia and New Zealand.5

With a combined population across Australia and Aotearoa of around 30 million people, that is a staggering 1.368 billion nappies a year.

Considering that it takes an estimated 150 years for a disposable nappy to biodegrade, Australia and our brothers across the Tasman have 205.3 billion years worth of bio-hazardous single-use plastic product poisoning our corner of the planet at any one time.

You would think that with such startling figures, governments across the land would be calling on supermarket chains to replace single-use plastic disposable nappies with traditional cloth alternatives immediately.

Of course, you would be wrong.

There are currently no announced government policies or supermarket campaigns to remove disposable nappies and training pants from Australian shelves.

With the average price of a packet of twenty-four big brand nappies at AU$20, why would the supermarkets do anything?



Do you use reusable shopping bags?

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Nurse! Oh, Nurse!

It is not only single-use plastic nappies putting our health at risk.

Studies in Denmark, Canada and the United States have shown that reusable shopping bags can expose people to E. Colli, salmonella, noroviruses, influenza, mould, and other dangers.

In Canada, microbiologist Dr Richard Summerbell tested forty-nine reusable shopping bags that had been used to carry groceries6.

His results are terrifying;

  • 64% had some level of bacteria
  • 30% had elevated bacterial counts
  • 24% showed the presence of mould
  • 20% indicated the presence of yeast
  • 12% had an unacceptable coliform count

Whilst researching this article, I came across other studies into the safety of reusable shopping bags. If I included the majority of their findings, I would be running the risk of giving my readers night terrors.

The Checkout

As you can see, there are a lot of reasons to buck against both the profiteering of the major supermarkets, and the ideology of the Green Left.

Between now and the end of June, I urge you to hoard as many "single-use" shoppings bags as possible. Find a space in your home to store them, and reuse them for anything that you can think of.

Just remember - greens belong in salad, not in government.

Update 1 Jul 2018

Since I originally published this article, the Victoria State Government has followed the lead of the major retailers, announcing that it will ban the issuing of lightweight plastic bags in all retail outlets, take away outlets, and milk bars.

The Labor Government's ban, however, will not include single-use plastic fruit and vegetable bags, garbage bags, freezer bags, plastic packaging, or plastic disposable nappies.

Labor's greenness only seems to extend as far as their big business donors will allow.

Following a major backlash from customers, Woolworths' Supermarkets have been forced to provide their new, 15 cents (AUD) reusable plastic bags for free.

Their competitor, Coles, will go plastic free from today.

One can only sit back and watch as they, too, suffer the consequences of putting the minority and the almighty dollar ahead of their patrons.

References & Sources

°,4 Wikipedia

¹ Coles Supermarkets

² Woolworths Supermarkets

³ Environmental impacts of shopping bags Ref number: SPA1039WOW-01 Report for Woolworths Limited. Mar 31, 2009; Assoc. Prof. Karli Verghese et al.

5 Sustainability Victoria

6“Grocery Carry Bag Sanitation, A Microbiological Study of Reusable Bags and ‘First or single-use’ Plastic Bags”, Sporometrics, Toronto Canada. Summerbell, Richard. 21 April 2009.

© 2018 Pip Stone


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    • Pip Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      Pip Stone 

      4 months ago from Gunaikurnai Country, Victoria, Australia

      Hi, Dan.

      It's always great to find a like-minded person.


    • Cre8tor profile image

      Dan Robbins 

      4 months ago from Ohio

      Very insightful. Of course I usually believe that big companies only do things for increased profits and mask them as "good deeds". I use single use bags at home for small garbage can liners, to pack lunches, and for kids to take things for stays at their friends...whatever else I can think of. I'm not the most green person in the world but I see the economic value in doing such things. Guess I'm not so different from these companies with the exception that I don't tell everyone I'm trying to save the planet, just a buck. Waste not, want not.

    • Pip Stone profile imageAUTHOR

      Pip Stone 

      4 months ago from Gunaikurnai Country, Victoria, Australia

      Hi Rtalloni. I am glad you found my article interesting! Personally, I wash my reusable bags every fortnight. Fortunately, up until June 20, only Aldi made you take your own bags.

    • RTalloni profile image


      4 months ago from the short journey

      What a great discussion. Looking at the issues surrounding shopping bags should include facts that reflect all aspects of the truth. Thanks for uncovering some of the truth about both kinds, and including the RMIT study on the dangers of multi-use bags.


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