A major Australian supermarket chain on Thursday set a third deadline for ending free plastic bags for shoppers, balancing customer anger at an additional shopping expense with environmentalists' demands for corporate action against plastic pollution.
Coles has been handing out reusable plastic bags to most of its Australian customers since July 1, when it introduced a ban on single-use plastic bags. It initially told customers they'd be charged 15 Australian cents (11 cents) for the reusable bags starting July 8.
Coles shifted the demise of free reusable Better Bags to Aug. 1. But on Wednesday the retail giant postponed that decision indefinitely.
With threats of a shopping boycott by environmentally minded shoppers, Coles announced on Thursday that customers would start paying for bags on Aug. 29.
"I appreciate this transition phase is taking longer than anticipated, but it is absolutely the right thing to do by our customers," Coles Managing Director John Durkan said in a statement to staff.
Coles and its larger rival Woolworths account for around 70 percent of the Australian supermarket trade. The two chains announced in June new goals to reduce plastic products and packaging in response to requests from customers for a greener shopping experience.
Before they took action, half of Australia's eight states and territories had already banned single-use plastic shopping bags by law.
From July 1, Queensland and Western Australia joined South Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory, and Australian Capital Territory with state-wide bans.
But the most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria—where more than half of Australians live—have resisted change.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Zoe Deans cautiously welcomed Coles' latest deadline.
"It sounds like initially they paid too much attention to the vocal minority and I think the sheer scale of the outrage yesterday and this morning has shown them what Australians actually think," Deans said.
"It's confusing and frustrating for customers that they have been flip-flopping on this issue and we really want to see them make a solid commitment to actually doing what they said they would do and ban the bags for good," Deans added.
University of Melbourne marketing expert Simon Bell said the policy reversals by Coles demonstrated inconsistency and unreliability.
But he expected the reputational damage to the Coles brand would be short-lived.
"The flip-flopping unfortunately is symptomatic of who's shouting the loudest on any one day, and that's not a great way to build brands or adhere to a vision," Bell said.
(Source: Associated Press)