ADVICE FOR RETAILERS
The Western Australian bag ban affects all retailers who previously used lightweight plastic bags, including HDPE plastic, biodegradable, compostable, and degradable bags.
The ban applies to anyone who sells goods in trade or commerce. This includes supermarkets, department stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, fast food outlets, markets, mine catering companies, charity shops... and many other businesses.
If you are a retailer in WA and you still use banned bags after 1 January 2019, you can face fines of $5000.
Key Steps to Manage the Ban
1. FIND OUT IF YOUR BAGS ARE BANNED
All retailers who supply lightweight plastic bags are affected by the bag ban and should take some time to understand the ban and its implications. About the ban >
Even if your bags are technically compliant you may want to consider alternative options to align with consumer expectations and trends. Remember, 87% of WA households indicated strong support for the bag ban.
The NRA strongly recommends that retailers do NOT use plastic bags close to the minimum thickness.
Ask your bag supplier to provide evidence of the thickness (microns or ‘um’) of your bags. Make sure this thickness is above 36 microns in every part of the bag (not an average or approximate). If you do use plastic bags it is safer to go well above the threshold (eg. 70 microns plus) and consider recycled content.
Suppliers face substantial fines for providing false or misleading information about banned bags from 1 July 2018.
2. PHASE OUT ALL EXISTING STOCK OF BANNED BAGS
Retailers should cease buying banned bags from 1 July 2018 and deplete existing stock as quickly as possible.
Retailers face substantial fines if they supply banned bags to customers after 31 December 2018.
The NRA believes that retailers should consider exhausting all banned bags by 1 July 2018 to align with national initiatives and to avoid customer confusion or backlash.
3. INTRODUCE ALTERNATIVES
Each business has unique needs and customers and you should weigh up the best option for you, such as providing no bag at all, or a choice of paper, cardboard, woven, fabric or heavyweight reusable plastic bags.
You may choose to charge a small fee for compliant bags to cover costs, but this is completely up to you.
Business owners and senior managers will need to weigh up the options available and make the decisions based on key questions as follows:
You are not required to provide customers with a bag.
The bag ban presents an opportunity to assess whether you really need to offer bags at all. For example, you may already provide products in packaging or containers that the customer can carry or place inside another bag.
Retailers can substantially reduce the number of bags they give away (and the costs associated with this) by simply asking customers "Do you need a bag?"
If you have decided to continue offering bags to customers, you need to ensure these are compliant, as well as being practical and suitable to your business needs. There are many alternative bags available – or you could even design your own.
Some of the things to consider when weighing up alternatives are:
- What size and weight are your products?
- Will you need multiple bag sizes and options?
- How much do the alternative bags cost?
- How reusable are they (i.e. care, longevity, cleanliness)?
- Are they recyclable at the end of their useful life?
- What option aligns with your brand (i.e. quality, image, country of origin, eco status)?
- Will you brand the bags? Can we add value to our brand and marketing efforts with our bags?
- Do your bags need to meet food safety standards ie. will they come into contact with foodstuffs?
- Do you need handles? How strong must these be?
- What would your customers expect you to offer?
- What would consumers be prepared to pay for?
The following lists the most common alternative bags available, and some of the pros and cons of each.
1. Reusable non-woven bags
- often called ‘green’ bags, commonly used by supermarkets
- includes variations – some have a plastic insert base, some are adapted to cooler bags
- simple branding can be printed on the bag
- consumers are already familiar with the reusable nature of these bags
- consumers already expect to pay a small fee ($1 to $2) for these bags
2. Calico/Fabric reusable bags
- fabric shopping bags, often made of calico, hessian, cotton or bamboo
- tend to be more expensive than other options but do tend to be the most durable
- statement branding and patterns are popular, creating higher perceived value
- tend to be used by consumers for longer periods and less likely to be thrown out
- consumers seem to be willing to pay $2 to $5 per printed calico bag
You may also be able to arrange Boomerang Bags for your store. Volunteers from all walks of life get together to make reusable ‘boomerang bags’ using recycled materials, as a means to provide a sustainable alternative to plastic bags. The bags are given away to friends, family, colleagues, bagless strangers and so on, as a plastic bag alternative that can be used and reused, or passed on to others in need. Read more about Boomerang Bags >
3. Premium cardboard bags
- often used by department stores, fashion boutiques and jewellery stores
- may have cut-out, rope, ribbon or plastic handles
- vary in weight, size and quality
- tend to be considered higher quality or ‘premium’ by customers
- provide high quality branding opportunities but do cost more than most other alternatives
- customers are not familiar with being charged for these types of bags so retailers usually incorporate the cost of the bag into a product’s price
- generally reusable and recyclable
4. Paper bags
- small and medium paper bags are often used by pharmacies, newsagents and food outlets
- can be flat or have fold-out bases, can have handles
- recent advancements mean these bags can be stronger than plastic bags
- cost-effective compared to other alternative bags
- can be raw or coloured, and can be made from recycled paper
- branding can be printed or stamped on the bags at low cost
- easily recycled
- customers may be prepared to pay 10c to 50c for these bags
5. Heavyweight plastic bags
- usually more than 60 microns thick
- most commonly used by department stores, fashion boutiques and supermarkets
- come in various sizes but most popular for large items or large basket counts
- branding is printed on the plastic pre-production
- reusable though this can depend on the size, brand popularity and durability
- recyclable at soft plastic recyclers
- some retailers provide these bags free to the customer but consumers have also show willingness to pay a small amount (eg. 15c) per reusable plastic bag
Note: The NRA strongly recommends against using lightweight plastic singlet bags close to 35 microns thick.
6. Other options
- there are many creative, eye-catching options
some retailers have chosen to make a statement with their bags and packaging, aligning this with their brand
- some retailers have decided to add bags as a high volume product line that doubles as branding
- there is growing popularity for reusable bags that fold or scrunch up so that they are easily slipped into a handbag or glovebox. This may present an opportunity for retailers to sell these bags.
The NRA believes that retailers who use plastic shopping bags close to 35 microns thick (and suppliers who promote them) are exposed to substantial risk for several reasons:
- inconsistent micron measurement
- future adaptations of the ban
- consumer perceptions
- willingness to pay
As outlined in the examples above, each alternative bag has advantages and disadvantages. Alternative bags cost more per unit but customers seem willing to pay for truly reusable bags.
How you introduce alternative options is up to you. You can either provide no bag at all, supply alternative bags free to your customers, offer them for sale, or a combination of the latter two:
- Provide no bag (customer must bring their own)
If you have previously provided free lightweight plastic bags to your customers, and you remove the banned bags without providing a replacement, you should save on business costs. If you currently give away 100 plastic bags a day, this could be costing your business up to $15,000 over 5 years, with little chance of recompense.
If you decide to not provide bags at all, you should carefully manage the transition to ensure customers are informed and prepared for the change to avoid negative feedback or loss of business.
- Provide alternative bags to customers at no charge
Reusable bags carry a higher unit cost than lightweight plastic bags, so if you choose to supply the new alternatives free to customers you will likely incur higher business costs. This is untenable for many small businesses and you may want to consider a bag fee.
You might choose to offer alternative bags for free, for example, if you believe that consumers expect a free bag in your retail category, you want to increase ‘walk-around’ exposure of your brand, or you can accommodate the additional cost in your product margins.
- Offer alternative bags for sale
Retailers across Australia and the world have been introducing reusable bags over the past ten years in Australia, with many now charging a small amount per bag – creating widespread consumer familiarity with paying for reusable bags.
Large retailers tend to be providing a range of bags for sale at different price-points to suit customer budgets. Smaller retailers may only need to offer one or two size and price options. This option presents a positive opportunity for retailers to recoup the cost of bags while giving people the choice to avoid a charge by bringing their own bag, rather than increasing the cost of all products to all customers.
An additional environmental benefit of bag fees is that typically bag usage drops by up to 90% when consumers have to pay for a bag. This decreases the volume and consumption of bags, and therefore less landfill and less chance of them being littered.
Note: Consumers appear to be willing to pay for quality, truly reusable bags and seem reluctant to pay for plastic bags which look or feel similar to banned bags even if they are technically compliant.
- Combination of free and charged bags
Particular retailers, such as pharmacies, may choose to provide recyclable paper bags for small items at no charge, while charging for larger reusable bags.
Please note: retailers cannot supply banned plastic bags from 1 Jan 2019 – regardless of whether they are free or charged.
4. TRAIN YOUR TEAM
A critical element of managing the ban in your business will be to prepare and train your team, particularly those who have regular contact with customers, such as checkout operators and customer service staff.
Depending on the alternatives you choose to offer, you may also need to consider changes to packing processes, point-of-sale areas and displays, as well as workplace health and safety issues such as packing weights and manual handling.
5. INFORM YOUR CUSTOMERS
The Western Australian Government ran an educational campaign from June 2018 to educate and prepare customers for the impending ban. In addition, the National Retail Association partnered with the WA Government to run a large-scale campaign in January 2019.
However retailers will need to be prepared to handle customer questions and objections.
One of the best things you can do to inform your customers is display the official signage in your store or near the point-of-sale.
National Retail Association - helping WA retailers transition away from lightweight plastic bags
Please note: the advice provided on this website is designed to assist retailers in understanding the ban and weighing up options but is by no means exhaustive. Each retail business should assess and make decisions based on their own advice and situation.