Friday, 17 April 2009

Foodstuffs put it on the Plastic

I'm not quite sure what to do about my future supermarket shopping habits. Foodstuffs announced today that from August they'll be charging 5c a bag for plastic bags at all their New World, Pak 'n Save, and Four Square supermarkets.

The move follows a decision by The Warehouse to introduce a 10c a bag surcharge from next Monday. The dodgy big red sheds plan to give profits from their bag sales to "local community groups". Foodstuffs is promising a similar system, with "the majority of funds raised" destined for "environmental causes".

That leaves me with the dilemma of always carrying around a bunch of those "green" canvas bags, or making a mandatory donation to an "environmental cause" which I probably wouldn't support.

Rival supermarket group Progressive Enterprises (Countdown, Woolworths, Foodtown) says it hasn't yet made a decision on any potential charge for plastic bags, but is "looking at the options available" (so shopping there may only be a temporary solution to my dilemma...)

Some opponents argue that the so-called "eco bags" made of canvas/material/hemp will actually take up more room in the landfill when their handles break or develop holes/smelly spills in the bottom, as they are much bulkier than plastic bags.

Canvas tote bags are the most common type of reusable bags used here in New Zealand. However there is a significant environment impact of cotton cultivation, with a heavy dosing of the world's herbicides used to defoliate cotton before it is harvested. The heavier the bag, the greater its environmental impact.

Whale Oil notes that paper bags used to be considered a better alternative to plastic, but research reveals that paper bags generate 70% more air pollutants, and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic. It takes about 4 times as much energy to construct a paper bag, and uses 84 times as much energy to recycle.

Expect the Greens and most of their "mainstream media" friends to welcome the bag charging schemes with open arms, complete with sob stories about the little fishies which apparently die each year because someone threw their old plastic bags into the ocean...

* NBR: Foodstuffs plastic bag profit destined for mystery environmental cause
* Stuff: Chain's levy bagged as a money-spinner

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