Removing plastic bags may not be the answer to our waste woes

Countdown supermarkets made the shift to remove single-use plastic bags in their checkouts earlier this year, in an attempt to eliminate unnecessary waste in their stores.

The change has had a mixed reception with many customers celebrating the supermarket’s efforts, while others question how effective this shift is in the grand environmental scheme. Single-use plastic bags may be gone, but their replacements do not appear to be any more eco-friendly. The main replacements Countdown introduced are their $1 black reusable ‘Bag for Good’ bags or their 15c Emergency Reusable bag.

While both of the alternative bags are advertised as reusable, their shelf lives are not particularly impressive, meaning that after a series of big trips they will break and need replacing. Countdown considered this outcome and seemed to address customers concerns by launching the Bag for Good program, whereby the $1 black bags could be returned and replaced, at no charge, should they become worn or damaged. While consumers economic unease may have been addressed, their environmental concerns remain. Both the 15c and black canvas bags are not made out of compostable or biodegradable material. Meaning that upon their return they are treated fundamentally the same as the previous single-use plastic bags, recycled and removed through the same methods. Which effectively means these new eco-friendly alternatives to the single-use plastic bag aren’t all that different.

In response to the removal of single-use plastic bags, Countdown has been actively engaging with the community’s queries. “At Countdown, we’re committed to reducing and removing unnecessary plastic and packaging wherever we can,” said a Countdown spokesperson. But phasing out of plastic does not necessarily equate to the removal of waste, as we can see, the alternative bags are proving as environmental detrimental as their predecessors. Additionally, any removal of plastic packaging is likely to create additional problems.

“Plastic packaging plays an important role in increasing shelf life and ensuring food safety requirements are met,” said a Countdown spokesperson. With the impending removal of plastic packaging at the supermarket chain, we are likely to see an increase in food waste, as the shelf lives and health standards of these foods may be compromised following the transition. While plastic is demonized in the environmental sphere, it has played an essential role in the food safety industry, and its removal should be carefully considered and planned by supermarkets to avoid any potentially dangerous consequences.

Countdown supermarkets are upheaving many of their practices to move to a more environmentally friendly business model. But it seems that eliminating waste is a more complicated process than simply removing plastic. Safe and eco-friendly alternatives need to be considered, and consumers remain divided on the new changes, as they seem more like a sideways step than a leap forward.