Plastic bag backlash: One in five shoppers steal reusable bags

A survey by Canstar Blue has revealed how Australians are adjusting to the plastic bag ban. Source: Shutterstock

One in five Australians have admitted to stealing reusable bags from the supermarket checkout following the nationwide plastic bag ban introduced earlier this year. 

A new survey by Canstar Blue has revealed a significant number of Aussies are struggling to adjust to the national plastic bag ban initiated by Coles and Woolworths in June, with many stubborn shoppers refusing to fork out 15 cents for a reusable bag. 

About 19 per cent of shoppers see reusable bags as “fair game” and have admitted to stealing them at the checkout. Canstar says the majority of the thieves are aged between 18-29. 

Canstar Blue Editor Simon Downes told Starts at 60 that some Aussies were struggling with the change and didn’t believe they should have to pay for something they previously got for free.

“It’s these people who clearly see reusable bags as fair game for them to just go ahead and steal,” he said. “I imagine that there is that resentment from some shoppers who are frustrated by it and just think well ‘I don’t way to pay for these, I’m just going to take them for free’.”

Younger shoppers were more likely to steal, with 33 per cent of customers aged 18-29 admitting to the theft compared with just 6 per cent of those aged over 60. Men were also more likely than women to swipe reusable bags (22 per cent/16 per cent).

Read more: Woolworths reveals ‘painful’ plastic bag ban has caused a drop in sales

The survey found that while 80 per cent of shoppers typically remember to bring their own shopping bags, 19 per cent usually forget and have to buy bags at the till. The remaining 1 per cent of shoppers don’t care about buying new bags for every shop. 

Older shoppers embracing the ban

Despite earlier concerns that Baby Boomers would be the most hesitant to the change, and most forgetful, it turns out they’ve adjusted to the bag ban better than any other generation. The survey found older Aussies were the most supportive of the ban, with 90 per cent of shoppers aged over 60 regularly bringing their own bags every time they shop.

“I think a lot of younger people need to eat some humble pie in the way that they were talking about older people in disregard,” Downes said. “Older people in the survey are more likely to support the ban, they’re more likely to remember their bags and they’re least likely to steal them. And for them it’s been an easy change.”

Downes believes older shoppers have embraced the ban more because they have time to plan their shopping trips, unlike younger shoppers. And while younger Aussies were the most supportive of the ban when it was first introduced, it seems the realities of having to plan ahead and remember to actually bring a reusable bag with them has proved too much. 

Since June, those aged 18-29 have gone from being the age group that most agreed with the bag ban, to being the least approving. Furthermore, only 68 per cent of them remember to bring their bags when they go shopping.

“We’ve been able to go into the supermarket without anything with us and we’ve been able to carry away our shopping in bags that have been provided, so I think the reality has dawned on a lot of people and probably those who don’t necessarily plan their shopping trips well in advance,” Downes said.

Cost of reusable bags adds up

Coles and Woolworths both started selling thicker, reusable plastic bags for 15 cents each, as well as their 99-cent green bags, in June and it seems customers can’t stop spending money on them. 

However, Downes warned the 19 per cent of shoppers who regularly forget to bring their bags and fork out for them each time they shop, they’re forming bad habits. 

“We’ve gone from throwing away plastic to throwing away money,” he said. “A lot of people now would have dozens of these bags around the house in the same way that they had those old throw-away plastic bags around their house, so we’re kind of just replacing one for the other.

“We still need to change the mind set and the habits and I think eventually over the years we’ll see things improve and more and more of us will remember to do it.”

When they introduced the plastic bag ban, Woolworths and Coles tried to ease the transition by handing out reusable plastic bags for free and rewarding shoppers with points if they brought bags from home.

Woolworths said that since the ban, they’ve seen “more and more customers form new habits”, with the majority of shoppers bringing their own bags.

“We also find the vast majority of our customers do the right thing and scan all items through our self-service checkouts,” a Woolworths spokesperson told Starts at 60.

A Coles spokesperson also added that they’re “delighted to see customers grow more accustomed to bringing their reusable bags from home”. 

What do you think? Has the bag ban impacted your shopping experience? 

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