Australia Slashed Plastic Bag Use by 80% in 3 Months – Here's How

©. Nejc Vesel

After a few big players entered the ring, the environment was spared some 1.5 billion plastic shopping bags in under 100 days.

This is remarkable, and a model for other countries around the world. After two of Australia's largest supermarket chains decided to nix single-use plastic shopping bags, the country saw an 80 percent drop in plastic bag consumption across the nation in the first three months of the ban, reports the Australian Associated Press (AAP).

According to The Guardian, Woolworths began prohibiting all single-use plastic bags from all stores nationwide on June 20th; their competitor, Coles, did the same on June 30th. It has been estimated that each chain was responsible for around 3.2 billion bags every year.

AAP says that the two supermarket giants stopped offering single-use plastic bags after years of campaigning by environmental groups and consumers. The press agency notes that while not all shoppers were on board (because, of course, heaven forbid the inconvenience of sparing the planet from being choked by plastic) (sorry) (not sorry), many other shoppers were in strong support of the initiative.

plastic pollution on beach

hhach/Public Domain

According to the National Retail Association (NRA), after just three months there was an 80 percent drop in the consumption of plastic bags across the country.

“Indeed, some retailers are reporting reduction rates as high as 90%,” said David Stout, Manager of Industry Policy, Research & Projects at the NRA.

Stout explained that the widespread prohibition also opened the door for smaller retailers to do the same, since the risk of losing customers over it has now been minimized. Noting that, “Obviously the best thing for smaller businesses is to either engineer out the bag completely or have the customer pay ... they should be able to consider that strategy without fear of backlash.”

Stout's words feel like they are coming from some kind of alternate universe, given the lobbying by industry associations in the U.S. to ban plastic bag bans. Stout goes on to say that he's hopeful that the big retailers continue to push for a more sustainable industry and to explore banning other single-use items.

“Everyone delivering things in a package need to take responsibility for what they deliver it in,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot more pressure on all of us to be more aware of what we consume.”

Given the success seen in Australia, may the rest of us follow suit.