all right

Occasionally adding corroborative details to add verisimilitude to otherwise bald and unconvincing,
but veridicous accounts
with careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination.

08 January, 2014

Bagging the Bags Ban

I sent this evening the following letter to the Woolworths Customer Service Team by e-mail:
I thank you for your response to my complaint [lodged by telephone last week] wherein I asked, inter alia, why you can’t find a source of plastic bags to provide to customers at no additional charge which comply with Tasmanian legislation when other smaller retailers can manage to do so. 
I confess, I find your reply puzzling and, frankly, dishonest.  The legislation, the Plastic Shopping Bags Ban Act (2013)[*], does not “prohibit retailers from giving away lightweight shopping bags” as you write; it prohibits retailers from providing (whether for free or for some charge) plastic bags of less than 35µg thickness, but the Act does allow the provision of “a biodegradable bag” or “a bag of a type prescribed by regulations to not be a plastic shopping bag”.  Other retailers have procured bags, which comply with the legislation and which they provide at no added cost to their customers. 
You write, “‘Alternative shopping bags’ will be available to purchase and will cost the customer 15c per bag”; yes, I already knew this; in fact, I complained precisely because you are charging 15¢ for a bag which, surely, costs you nothing near that much.  Your profit margins, I hope, can’t be so minuscule that you cannot provide free bags to customers if smaller shops can do so. 
You then write, “plastics are a major pollutant in our environment and waste valuable resources”.  Do you really believe that?  What rubbish!  See “Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags” (February, 2011) from the UK’s Environment Agency, which found the potential of re-usable shopping bags to benefit the environment depends on how many times they are used before being discarded.
“Whatever type of bag is used, the key to reducing the impacts is to reuse it as many times as possible,” the report finds: “The paper, low-density polyethylene (LDPE), non-woven polypropylene and cotton bags should be reused at least three, four, 11 and 131 times respectively to ensure that they have lower global warming potential than conventional high-density polyethylene (HDPE) carrier bags that are not reused.”  Furthermore, the re-use “of conventional HDPE and other lightweight carrier bags for shopping and as bin liners is pivotal to their environmental performance, and re-use as bin liners produces greater benefits than recycling bags”; re-using a plastic bag just once puts it into the same environmental category as a cotton bag which is reused 173 times. 
If people re-use the bags you flog (at your fleecing price), as you advocate, they risk serious illness from cumulative bacterial contamination.  However, if they wash their bags they then use so much energy and water in that laundering process that they eliminate any environmental benefit which might arise from avoiding the use of HDPE bags; and disinfecting cloth bags would be even worse for the environment because any residual or superfluous disinfectant might harm or even destroy aquatic fauna when discarded. 
“The conventional HDPE bag,” the Environmental Agency’s report concludes, had the lowest environmental impacts of the lightweight bags in eight of the nine impact categories.” 
If, as you intimate, you really cared for the environment, you’d lobby to have this silly, ideologically skewed legislation repealed in order to reintroduce lightweight HDPE bags; and, whilst the Act remains in force, if you gave a toss for the convenience of your customers, you’d quickly locate a source of lightweight bags which you could provide to your customers at no extra cost.
* an Act “to prevent, so as to minimise environmental pollution, the provision by retailers of certain plastic bags, and for related purposes”.

UPDATE I (9 Jan.):  earlier, last week, a representative of the Woolworths supermarket in the Hobart CBD responded to my complaint, writing (inter alia):
It is now against the law for all retail outlets to supply non biodegradable bags to their customers (Woolworth’s is working on a bio degradable bag).
UPDATE II (9 Jan.):  a list of shops in Tasmania which helpfully provide lightweight shopping bags to customers for no extra charge:
9/11 Bottleshops;
EB Games;
JB Hi-Fi;
Just Jeans;
Mountain Creek Outdoors;
The Reject Shop;
Salamanca Fruit Market;
Your Habitat.
(This list will be irregularly updated.)

UPDATE III (9 Jan.)along with the decision by Woolworths not to provide helpful bags, comes a seemingly correlative lack of assistance at check-outs whereby check-out staff stand watching as poor customers who brought their own bags perforce pack their own items therein.  The representative of the Woolworths supermarket quoted above assured me that it is not his supermarket’s policy to be so unhelpful, but the uncooperative practice continues at some supermarkets.