Countdown moves toward phasing out plastic produce bags

Countdown says it can bring in restrictions on products in a matter of hours if needed. Photo:...
Photo: RNZ (file)
Single-use produce bags are to be phased out by Countdown - the first New Zealand supermarket chain to do so.

Some Countdown stores will remove plastic produce bags ahead of a shift to get rid of them in all...
Some Countdown stores will remove plastic produce bags ahead of a shift to get rid of them in all of the chain's stores. Photo: Supplied/ Countdown
The bags have not been provided at the new Metro Herne Bay store which opened last week. And from 25 July, 19 more of the company's stores will join them in a pilot to remove the bags, with the intention of making the change permanent across the motu next year.

Countdown fresh food leader Pieter de Wet said Countdown is committed to sustainability goals and also wants to be ahead of any possible future government bans.

"The indication is toward the middle of next year it would be something that New Zealand would want to introduce across the industry - and we think this is the start of getting us there quicker."

Most single-use plastic grocery bags were banned in New Zealand from 1 July 2019, but an exception was made for produce bags, bin liners and dog-poo bags.

Countdown currently uses about 50 million single-use plastic produce bags a year, but de Wet said many customers had told them the bags were not necessary, and they had been fine without them.

"Some of them bring their own bags, some of them use their shopping bags that they already bring to the store, and some of them put the produce in their basket or trolley."

The supermarket is considering alternative bag options that are more environmentally friendly, and has plans to ask for feedback from shoppers at the pilot stores to find out if there is anything stores could do to help them shop without the bags.

Greenpeace said Countdown's plan to remove the plastic produce bags would be a positive step, but more could be done.

The environmental group's plastics campaigner said it was well-due time for the government to consider restricting plastics in other products, like bottled drinks.

"Our government needs to be a lot bolder and a lot more ambitious in its banning of unnecessary single-use plastic items.

"We're being sold a billion plastic bottles a year... so clearly they're one of the worst culprits, and they're the best place to start."

Lee also called on Countdown to not replace the single-use plastic produce bags with paper, and said that still resulted in too much unnecessary environmental damage.

"My only caution is that we don't see replacing one single-use item with another single-use item as the solution.

"What we really need is to shift to more circular options - reuseable options."

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