Over the next 12 months, the conglomerate said the decision to reduce its plastic bag usage was “the right thing to do” as one of the country’s largest retailers.
“We currently give out more than 3.2 billion lightweight plastic bags a year and hence can play a significant role in reducing overall plastic bag usage,” Woolies CEO, Brad Banducci.
“Today’s commitment shows we are committed to taking our environmental and community responsibilities seriously.
“Whilst we know this is a major decision, we will work very closely with all of our store teams to ensure the transition for our customers is as simple as possible.
The reduction will cover all Woolworths Group stores nationwide including its supermarkets and metro stores, Big W, BWS and e-commerce operations. Dan Murphy’s and Cellarmasters are already single-use plastic bag free.
Instead shoppers will be offered reusable bags ranging from 15 cents to $2, although Big W may provide reusable bags at no extra cost.
Banducci said the move signals the start of further commitments by Woolies, in minimising its impact on the environment.
“Our customers can also expect further commitments in reducing plastic use in all parts of our supply chain, especially in fruit and vegetables,” he said.
Jon Dee, the founder of the national anti-plastic bag campaign Do Something, said that this is the first big step by a major Australian retailer.
“This is the first move by a major retailer to get rid of plastic bags and we now need to see Coles make the same pledge,” Dee told AAP.
“Aldi took the lead when they set up here in 2001 because from day one they didn’t give away free plastic bags.”
Woolworths’ lunchtime announcement was quickly followed by a similar announcement from fierce rival Coles on Friday afternoon.
Coles said it will bring its stores in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and WA into line with Tasmania, SA, the Northern Territory and the ACT, where Coles complies with local bans.
Coles chief customer officer Simon McDowell said this follows several months of consultation with non-government organisations and environmental groups.
Dee said lightweight plastic bags often end up polluting waterways and the ocean, killing and maiming marine animals.
Removing free bags will give shoppers an incentive to use their reusable bags, he added.
Greenpeace campaigner Samantha Wockner said Woolworths’ move will have a significant positive impact on the environment, and urged governments to act on the issue.
“It’s disappointing that leadership on this issue has come from a large supermarket chain rather than from our politicians,” she said.
Several major retailers have removed or put a charge on single-use plastic bags to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags. Aldi has charged customers 15 cents per bag since arriving in Australia in 2001. Wesfarmers-owned Bunnings introduced a 10 cent levy on disposable plastic bags in 2003. Furniture chain, Ikea stopped using free disposable plastic bags in 2013.
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