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Why Coles’ plastic bag backflip leaves us worse off than before

Kim Borg and Edwin Ip write in The Conversation (1.8.18) about supermarket retailer Coles' decision to reverse its ban on single-use plastic bags. The authors argue that providing thicker plastic bags for free is 'worse than pointless', encouraging the same wasteful habits but with more damaging material.

'One month after removing free lightweight plastic bags from checkouts, Australian supermarket giant Coles has decided to offer thicker reusable plastics bags for free, indefinitely. This unprecedented move is in response to strong backlash by customers who are struggling to switch to reusable bags.

'We know that offering free lightweight plastic bags causes excessive plastic use. We also know that banning lightweight bags can increase the use of heavier plastic bags (such as bin liners). Coles’ decision brings out the worst of both worlds: giving out heavier plastic bags for free.

'... Behavioural economics suggests that people are more sensitive to loss than gains, so financial disincentives for plastic bags are particularly useful. For example, it has been found that use of single-use bags can decrease substantially when a charge is framed as a tax, compared to a bonus for bringing reusable bags.'

 

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