Getting New Zealand ready for supermarkets without single-use plastic bags at the checkout

Monday, 07 May 2018

Last year New World started the debate around plastic bags, and New Zealanders overwhelmingly expressed their desire to get rid of single-use plastic bags at the checkout.  But, are we ready as a nation to go cold turkey on bags by the end of the year?

Foodstuffs North Island CEO Chris Quin reckons we’re maybe not fully ready yet, but we’re making great progress. 

We're going reusable

“When New World made the commitment to go single-use plastic bag free at the checkout by the end of 2018, we knew it was a mammoth task, but one that needed to be done.  Simply banning the bag is a relatively mechanical process, and not too hard to achieve, however the real trick is helping our customers make the adjustment.  Then we have to look at choosing the right alternatives for those of us who, despite our best efforts are going to be caught short without our reusable bags.  We will need something to put our groceries in.”

Foodstuffs believes they’re on the right track.  New World has been taking a lead on helping to drive the change with consumers.  Over the last six months they have given away more than two million long-life reusable bags. 

Quin says, “The goal was pretty simple; we wanted to fill up our customers’ car boots with reusable bags so they always had an alternative to a single-use plastic bag on hand.  New World has also been trialling signage to remind customers to bring their own bags and we’ve invested heavily in the nationwide ‘Bags Not’ campaign to promote the use of reusable alternatives.”

The big question, “Is it working?” 

“You bet,” affirms Quin, “Aside from the reusable bags we’ve given away, the sales of long-life reusable bags have increased by 600%, and our stores have noticed a big drop in the number of single-use plastic bags being used.  Across the board we are seeing customers wanting to make further reductions, which is extremely positive.”

Foodstuffs is now ready to announce the next wave of initiatives to help customers get ready for the transition.  “To avoid confusion between our stores we will align the removal of single-use plastic bags at the checkout across all our major supermarkets.  PAK’nSAVE and Four Square will be joining New World in removing single-use plastic bags from the checkout.”

Foodstuffs will also start trialling alternatives for customers who get caught short.   “Choosing the right options to test is trickier than it looks,” explains Quin.  “It’s not as simple as immediately switching to a heavy duty reusable plastic bag like the ones they use in the UK or Australia, or compostable plastic, or paper.  The science behind the options is fairly complex.

“Some of the so-called eco options currently available are over-hyped and actually have harmful effects. They don’t compost readily in anything other than ideal commercial environments.  If they end up in landfill and break down slowly they release methane gas.  And, if they enter the soft plastics recycling stream they can destroy the integrity of the recycled products. 

“Our choice also depends a lot on how the bags will be used; once, a few times, or over many months or even years, the numbers need to stack up.”

Over the coming weeks customers will see a heavy duty reusable plastic bag available for sale in selected stores. Quin says, “These are a good option for bags which will be used a few times but they won’t last for years.  At the end of their life they can safely enter the soft plastics recycling stream. Foodstuffs supermarkets account for the top 10 soft plastics recyclers.  Our customers really get it and are keen to make a change.”

Foodstuffs is also testing a paper grocery bag as another option that will be available for sale at the checkout. These have the advantage of being suitable for kerbside recycling bins. 

When it comes down to it though, best of all are long-life cloth reusable bags – they always have been.  If consumers regularly reuse these bags over many months and years, these are the best option for the environment.