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Laying waste to waste

  • 02 August 2018


This week Coles announced it will give away its reusable plastic bags, after having received a barrage of abuse from a minority of shoppers who were disgruntled with having to bring their own or pay 15 cents to purchase a plastic one.

While Coles has announced this is an interim measure (until 29 August) to allow customers 'more time to make the make the transition to reusable bags', others argue that in the meantime it effectively removes all incentive for customers to bring their own. Worse still, these new reusable bags take even longer than the old single-use ones to break down once they are discarded, and this is often after just one use.

The extreme resistance of a minority of shoppers is one issue, but what interests me is that while 80 per cent of us support a plastic bag ban most of us still accept and use them regularly while out shopping. The fact is that it is all too easy to make daily choices that negatively affect the environment, and there are many incentives for us to do so — cost, time, social norms. This is where policies like plastic bag bans come in — they change the incentives and not only help us to do the right thing but also to normalise it within our culture.

But we are drowning in plastic. On current predictions, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050, and our food and drinking water is being contaminated by plastic microparticles. It is probably past time that we started taking this issue seriously. But it's easier said than done.

I discovered this first-hand last month, when my seven-year-old son, Charlie, quietly asked me if we could please stop buying plastic. He had learned that it was polluting the ocean and hurting whales, and he wanted to do something about it.

'Sure,' I replied breezily, 'we'll just have to make sure that we do a bit more cooking for lunchboxes over the weekend.'

When I collected our veggie box that week, I asked if we could skip anything packaged. We are lucky in the Northern Rivers to have many excellent bulk food shops. So I felt relaxed about stocking up on grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, tea and spices. I started thinking this whole plastic-free thing was going to be straightforward.


"This moral licencing is bad enough when the resources are actually being recycled, but it becomes a serious