Bag Ban: From throwing away plastic to throwing away money

The majority of Australians are now in the habit of taking their own reusable shopping bags to the supermarket checkout, but for many the single-use bag ban is regularly adding extra to the grocery bill. And some shoppers have even taken to stealing reusable bags.

A Canstar Blue survey of 3,000 adults has found that 80% typically remember to take their own bags when they head to the supermarket, but one in five (19%) usually forget and end up having to pay for reusable bags. The remaining 1% just don’t want to take their own bags and are happy to buy them every time.

Coles and Woolworths stopped giving out thin single-use plastic bags at stores across Australia earlier this year, although the bags had already been banned in some areas for years. Despite that, some shoppers in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria reacted angrily to the ban, with Coles continuing to hand out the bags weeks after its ban was due to take effect.

“Now that the dust has settled on the bag ban, we wanted to find out how Aussies have reacted and whether or not we’re remembering to take our own bags,” said Canstar Blue Editor Simon Downes. “15 cents for a reusable bag may not seem like much of a cost to pay for doing your bit for the environment, but if you’re buying several bags a week, over the course of a year, those costs add up.

“Many shoppers will now have dozens of reusable bags stored under their kitchen sink, but they still forget to take them shopping, and end up coming home with more. Supermarket shopping can also be spontaneous, so you won’t always have your own bags at hand. It’s understandable that some shoppers are frustrated and still struggling to change old habits. They’ve gone from throwing away plastic bags to throwing away money.”

The survey, conducted throughout October, found that the older shoppers are, the more likely they are to remember their bags. 90 per cent of respondents aged 60 and over said they usually remember, compared to just 68% of those aged 18-29.

Whether they remember to take them or not, 42% of shoppers find taking their own bags to the supermarket a hassle. That number jumps to 51% of consumers aged 18-29, with those aged 60 and over the least troubled (34%).

Meanwhile almost one in five survey respondents (19%) admitted to taking a reusable bag from a supermarket without paying. Those aged 18-29 were most likely (33%), with those aged 60 and over least likely (6%).

Men were more likely than women to declare taking their own bags to the supermarket a hassle (47% vs. 39%), the research found, and more likely to steal reusable bags (22% vs. 16%).

“It seems that plastic bags are being seen as ‘fair game’ by some shoppers who either forget to bring their own bags, or simply don’t think they should have to pay for them,” said Mr Downes. “But the reality is that, if you take something you need to pay for without paying, it’s stealing, regardless of the cost.”

Has support for the ban changed?

Coping with the removal of single-use plastic bags is one thing, but do consumers actually agree with it? The following graph shows the results of Canstar Blue’s survey in which shoppers were asked about the extent to which they agree with the ban, or otherwise. The results are compared with the same survey findings from June – before the ban took effect along the east coast – and again in August.

The results show that support for the ban peaked in August, but has remained fairly consistent. However, there has been an increase in support from older shoppers over the year.

“If you looked at social media at the time of the ban, you’d have thought that all Baby Boomers were rejecting the move and younger shoppers were setting the right example. But these results suggest that older consumers are coping best with the switch,” said Mr Downes. “Not only that, but support for the ban is highest with older shoppers and has actually dropped among younger shoppers.

“It seems that, for some shoppers – especially young ones – the reality of losing the convenience of single-use plastic bags has hit home. Meanwhile older shoppers have been finding it easier to adapt to the change.”

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