How the supermarkets stuffed up
A SERIES of failures by Coles and Woolworths have led to both major supermarkets stuffing up their single-use plastic bag ban campaigns.
That's the collective view of varied Australian experts who are frustrated and fed up with the supermarket chains' handling of an important environmental impact and behavioural issue.
They say the reason shoppers have been outraged at the check-outs is because they don't understand the message.
Customers have been left to see only the negatives of the ban when they want to see the positives, which retailers have failed to communicate, and are being "smacked over the head with a stick" instead of rewarded for buying reusable shopping bags.
Some are now saying the solution to all this is for Coles and Woolies to flip their campaigns and start rewarding customers for their efforts, whether that be through cashback offers, existing rewards systems, two-for-one buys or games.
Experts would also like to see better messaging in terms of showing real environmental impacts in campaigns, be it through photos, in-store mascots, apps or viral social media marketing.
RMIT University's sustainable products and packaging expert Simon Lockrey said there had been no good communication about what the ban was enabling and the protection of our oceans and marine life.
Mr Lockrey said a blanket-ban approach, with only the option of reusing or buying bags as an alternative, was not going to change behaviour.
"How is that going to shift decades and decades of social norms people are used to in supermarkets? It's not," he said.
"There's lots of ways we can do this better but unfortunately the retailers don't seem to have their heads around it.
"It's about engaging people about positive things, not smacking them over the head with a stick.
"All these failures contribute to what's happening at check-outs. The people don't understand."
Mr Lockrey said retailers did not seem to be grasping the "whole systems approach" that was needed.
Such an approach requires looking at the flow-on effects of eliminating plastic, like increasing food waste which is a global issue, the award-winning designer in sustainable innovation said.
"I just don't see that kind of thing occurring from Woolworths and Coles, they're shifting the burden and creating more barriers," he said.
Mr Lockrey said a great example of effective social media marketing was Melbourne's Metro Trains "dumb ways to die" campaign which become the fastest-spreading Australian brand hit of all time.
The cartoon notched up 2.3 million views in the first 48 hours and more than eight million in the first week.
He said Woolworths and Coles should also look at using the "powerful system" they had already spent a decade creating, with rewards points and incentives.
Researchers from the University of Newcastle's Global Centre for Environmental Remediation said reports this week that critics of the ban said most shopping bags in Australia went to landfill and did not end up in the ocean were not helping the cause.
Estimates indicate about 2 per cent of shopping bags in Australia end up in NSW landfill alone.
"The commonly-cited figure is that 80 per cent of marine debris originates on the land," researchers told news.com.au.
"To say that plastic bags are sent to landfill doesn't account for those that are lost to the environment due to improper disposal, during kerbside collection and transport or become airborne, often from landfills themselves.
"If by removing plastic bags from the waste stream we have diverted 2 per cent of waste from landfill then that is a success in itself.
"The 2 per cent may seem negligible but what would the benefit be to threatened marine species including turtles, whales, shorebirds etc who continue to be photographed either entangled in plastic bags or stranding themselves revealing a gut full of plastic during the autopsy.
"By targeting additional single use items we can improve on this percentage."
Queensland University of Technology Future environment researcher Dr Leonie Barner said Australia needed to establish a better waste management system, on top of focusing on the reduction of waste.
"The Queensland ban of single-use plastic bag ban will not have a big impact on the plastic pollution in the pacific," Dr Barner said.
"However, it will have a big impact locally in Australian river systems and oceans.
"In my opinion, the significance of the single-use plastic bag ban is the increased awareness that waste is a fundamental problem for modern societies."
Dr Barner said the ban should only be the beginning.
"We need to reduce the use of any single-use items where possible - plastic bags, cutlery, crockery, straws, bottles - we need a behavioural change," she said.
"Queensland also needs to improve the waste management system in order to produce 'purer' waste in order to obtain waste of higher quality which leads to a higher quality of the recycled product."
"We should also investigate which types of plastic are easy to recycle in Queensland and reduce the amount of plastic which cannot be recycled - there is not recycling stream for polyfoam in Queensland," she said.
"If people are upset about paying 15c per more durable plastic bag, they should have a look at home what they already have which is suitable for carrying their shopping - green bags, cotton bags, durable plastic bags - even a box will do it."