Vendors line the halls of Fancy Food Fest

Australia Bans Single-Use Plastic Bags, Chokeholds and "Bag Rage" Ensues

by Rudy Sanchez on 07/09/2018 | 2 Minute Read


According to the U.N., over 60 countries have taken steps to reduce single-use plastic bags, including Australia.  As of July 1st, most of Australia has a law in place banning single-use plastic bags, with major retailers like Woolworths and Coles voluntarily removing the bags from their stores nationwide.

Change can be difficult, but some customers in Australia weren’t too pleased with the new policies and laws. In what is being called “bag rage,” Australian consumers are taking their frustrations out on frontline employees. One shopper in Western Australia went so far as to choke a Woolworths employee.

According to a survey of supermarket employees, 43% have endured some sort of abuse over the changes. Woolworths is temporarily offering free reusable, heavy-duty plastic bags, and Coles is adding extra staff to mitigate any delays while checking out and explaining the new policies. The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, a union representing supermarket employees, is starting a public awareness campaign to educate consumers.

 Generic Woolworths Store pictures. ### Picture taken in Dogs Swamp shopping centre without permission.
Picture: Ian Munro The West Australian

A handful of countries and several US states have transitioned away from single-use bags without incident, but why has it been different in Australia? Are attitudes about the environment different? Are shoppers in Australia more attached to courtesy plastic shopping bags than consumers in the rest of the world?

Most comments on social media are positive about the change, but a few find the switch useless as the reusable bags offered are also plastic or as a cash grab on the part of the retailers.

Perhaps some of the rage stems from being compelled to change habits, an inconvenience that while generally popular and well-understood, was forced upon the consumer. In 2016, California’s state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags came through a ballot initiative that was approved by votes at the time. Californians unhappy about the ban could only reasonably blame their fellow voters.

Old habits are hard to break, but the need to reduce plastic waste is worthy of the effort. Our reliance on single-use plastic bags contributes to 8 million tons of plastic waste ending up in the world’s oceans every year.

Which, you know, seems a little more rage-inducing if you ask us.

You may also like