Anita Horan is a plastic-free campaigner. Picture: Anita Horan
Anita Horan is a plastic-free campaigner. Picture: Anita Horan

Mum beats Aldi over plastic bag dispute

SYDNEY mum Anita Horan has spent more than four long years waging a war against one of our guilty habits.

The environmental activist has been campaigning to have single-use plastic bags removed from the produce sections of our supermarkets and has long encouraged shoppers to ditch plastic and go "nude" when buying fruit and vegies.

And she's finally had a "monumental" win.

Discount supermarket favourite Aldi has quietly pulled bags from their banana displays across the country - and while it may seem like a small victory, Ms Horan told news.com.au it would have a huge impact.

She said she had been pushing for bags to be removed from "thick-skinned" produce like pineapples, grapefruits and rockmelons for years but had decided to focus on just one symbolic item - bananas.

"How useless are plastic bags for bananas when we grab them and peel the skin off anyway?" she said.

Anita Horan is a plastic-free campaigner. Picture: Anita Horan
Anita Horan is a plastic-free campaigner. Picture: Anita Horan

"I think bananas are really symbolic of our plastic addiction - whenever I see someone put bananas in a plastic bag my jaw drops because it is an act of insanity.

"And it's getting worse and worse. Lately I've seen people bagging all kinds of things like putting pre-bagged lettuce into another bag, or packets of smoked salmon and pasta."

Ms Horan dubbed the practice of taking free produce bags unnecessarily "legal theft".

"People take these bags simply because they're free - I see people rip reams and reams of them and shove them in their pockets.

"It's plastic abuse and it's completely out of control with no regulation - supermarkets are not doing anything at all."

Ms Horan said she had "harassed" the country's supermarket giants on the matter for years and praised Aldi for being the only organisation to respond meaningfully.

She said she was personally called by an Aldi executive who told her of the change.

"It was one of the happiest days of my life and I am so proud of Aldi for one doing it in the first place and two for letting me know I had affected the policy within the organisation," she said.

Ms Horan said she hoped Aldi would follow up the move by erecting signs near the plastic-free banana sections to let customers know the reason behind the decision and to encourage them to reduce their plastic use.

She said people tended to use bags unnecessarily because "everyone else" did to too and it was human nature not to want to stand out from the crowd by breaking "rules".

Secondly, she said the stores themselves conditioned people to use plastic as pre-packaged items like salads came with barcodes included, which were easier to self-scan and therefore reduced the cost of hiring staff.

And thirdly, she said it helped reduce the theft of loose items at self-serve check-outs.

"Supplying free plastic bags might seem expensive but overall it is cheaper for them - they have their own agenda," she said.

"They have also tried to instil a fear of germs in people to help encourage plastic so they have promoted germphobia."

Ms Horan said many shoppers fell for the guilty habit of using plastic for no reason. Picture: Anita Horan
Ms Horan said many shoppers fell for the guilty habit of using plastic for no reason. Picture: Anita Horan

Ms Horan said it had taken years to achieve, but that there was now a shift in consumer behaviour away from single-use plastic with more and more shoppers bringing their own produce bags and boxes and popping loose items in their trolleys and baskets.

She said many people were annoyed by the "hypocrisy" of the major chains introducing plastic bag bans while keeping plastic produce bags in place.

"Everyone can see through it and I think that's why some people go mental and take as many produce bags as they can as revenge," she said.

"People 'steal' them because they think, they've taken away our bags, so I'll take as many of these as I need."

She said the supermarket chains were always watching consumer behaviour so the more people who avoided plastic produce bags the better.

"They will do what the public wants if there is enough public outcry, so it's very important we get enough public support," she said.

Meanwhile, an Aldi spokeswoman told news.com.au the company had announced its plastics and packaging reduction commitments - including reducing plastic packaging by 25 per cent by the end of 2025 - in June 2019.

"At the time, plastics reduction advocate Anita Horan asked if the business could remove plastic produce bags from our banana stands as a simple yet impactful action toward reaching this goal," the spokeswoman said.

"Last week, we removed the bags from banana displays across all of our stores. It was not our

intention to publicise this and we simply shared the news with Anita directly.

"We acknowledge this is only a small step in an important journey of reducing plastic and we stand committed to quantify our impact on our goals later this year."

Aldi has also committed to actively reduce the amount of plastic packaging in its fresh produce range and transition to more sustainable alternatives where possible, providing no increase in food waste.

It will also phase out "problematic and unnecessary" single-use plastics by the end of 2020, including plastic straws, plastic disposable tableware and plastic stemmed cotton buds, and will prioritise the reduction or replacement of difficult to recycle black plastic packaging.

The packaging of its exclusive brands will be reformulated to be 100 per cent recyclable, reusable or compostable by the end of 2025.