Melbourne, Australia — An Australian retail workers' trade union has mounted a public campaign to stop shoppers abusing retail staff who can no longer give them free plastic merchandise bags.
Australia's two biggest grocery chains — Coles and Woolworths — are currently phasing out single-use polyethylene bags, and the union fears its members will get abuse from shoppers. The Melbourne-based Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees' Association (SDA) has launched a campaign called "Don't Bag Retail Staff."
The two rival supermarket chains announced within hours of each other in July 2017 that single-use bags under 30 microns thick will not be supplied after June this year for Woolworths and July for Coles.
Coles Supermarkets Pty. Ltd., part of the publicly listed, Perth-based Wesfarmers Group, has 801 supermarkets, 883 liquor stores, 702 convenience-fuel stores and 89 hotels across Australia.
Woolworths Ltd., based in the Sydney suburb of Bella Vista, has more than 3,000 supermarkets and liquor stores. The liquor stores are already lightweight bag free.
Australia's third biggest supermarket chain, Aldi Stores Pty. Ltd., headquartered in the Sydney suburb of Minchinbury, has not offered free shopping bags to customers since its 2001 launch in Australia.
SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said customers should be prepared for the new rules.
"While we understand some customers may be frustrated by this change, there is no excuse for abusive or violent behavior towards retail staff," he said in a statement. "We welcome this positive change for the environment and remind customers to bring their own reusable bags or simply purchase one at the checkout."
SDA conducted research among 6,000 retail and fast food workers last year and found more than 85 percent of those surveyed had experienced abuse from customers at work.
"Retail workers should not have to bear the brunt of abusive behavior, just for following the new rules," Dwyer said.
The supermarket chains' nationwide bans coincide with more states implementing statewide bans on PE single-use shopping bags.
Western Australia and Queensland have joined South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory in banning single-use bags.
The Victorian Government has said it will ban the bags this year, but has not set a date. The New South Wales Government is the only state or territory that has not legislated a ban.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says NSW does not need legislation because the supermarket chains have voluntarily removed single-use bags, which eliminates 80 percent of bags supplied in the state.
South Australia introduced the first ban from May 2009. Other states and territories have gradually followed.
Woolworths has also announced it will not sell plastic drinking straws after Nov. 1 and will consider enabling customers to bring their own plastic containers to take home some fresh produce.
The supermarket chains sell reusable thicker plastic bags and fiber bags. But environmental groups are concerned the thicker, reusable bags are also dangerous for the environment, particularly marine life.
The Sydney-based Boomerang Alliance, an umbrella group for 47 environmental organizations, has argued heavier, low density PE department store plastic bags also should be banned, with case-by-case exemptions if retailers can "demonstrate effective management and/or minimal risk of reaching the marine environment."
Boomerang Alliance said LDPE bags represented 38 percent of plastic bag litter, according to Australia's National Litter Index.