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Australian retailer backtracks on green initiative

By: Kate Tilley

December 5, 2013

GEELONG, AUSTRALIA — A major Australian retailer has reversed a decision to stop supplying free lightweight high density polyethylene shopping bags to customers.

Geelong-based department store chain Target Australia Pty. Ltd. returned free bags to its 308 Target and Target Country stores in October, after removing them in June 2009.

For stores in states and territories where lightweight bags are banned by law, Target will provide free bags thicker than 35 microns. Half of Australia’s states and territories have banned single-use lightweight plastic bags.

Target spokesman Jim Cooper told Plastics News there is a largely positive response to Target restoring free plastic bags to its checkouts.

“Lots of people are choosing the free option, but many are also choosing to buy biodegradable and fabric bags,” he said. “The initiative was about giving customers the choice, rather than forcing them to buy bags.”

Cooper said Target got about 500 complaints a year after it stopped handing out free bags. But he added that a far larger number of shoppers express dissatisfaction at the checkouts, although those complaints were not tracked or recorded.

“We had lots of feedback from customers saying they didn’t feel they should be forced to buy bags, but should have a choice,” he said.

Anne Sharp, a senior researcher in sustainability at the Adelaide-based University of South Australia, criticized the decision to offer free bags again.

“Target is responding to a small, vocal minority, while ignoring a largely happy majority. Many people valued Target’s environmental commitment in removing plastic bags. Going back on that has left these people confused and upset, with some saying they will no longer shop there,” she said.

Sharp said the problem with voluntary bans is companies get scared when people complain.

“The bag is given at the end of shopping, which rarely changes customers’ minds about their purchase. Our research found people won’t decide to go to a [store] just because it offers free bags,” she said.