An attempt by the Supa IGA in the WA township of Denmark last week to charge 10 cents for plastics bags was scrapped after just four hours when staff were abused by angry customers.
If the incident shows anything, it is that many West Australians are not ready to give up their free plastic bags.
To people like Mike Sutton, activist and representative of Clean Up Australia, this is bewildering.
“We have over three billion plastic bags are disposed of in landfill sites every year. Many of these can take hundreds of years to break down, and they are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mr Sutton.
“We have easy alternatives to the plastic bag, there is no need to use them.”
Fremantle is one of the cities in WA leading the charge against plastic bags, but without much luck. Despite significant local support, the Fremantle council’s attempts to establish a law banning plastic bags at a local level have been rejected by state parliament twice, in 2013 and again in late 2015.
The policy is not entirely supported by the Fremantle community, however.
To some Fremantle supermarket customers like Karen McCartney, both the plastic-bag-ban policy and the pay-for-bags policy seem unfair.
“We are already paying through the teeth at the supermarket. I just don’t think it would be fair if they charged for bags too,” said Mrs McCartney.
“The bags are cheap for them and that’s why they still use them. If they are really so keen to cut down on plastic they should put their money where their mouth is and stop using plastic themselves.”
Mr Sutton disagrees.
“Many people don’t realise that the cost of the plastic bags they are given at the supermarket is factored into the price of the goods they purchase. It’s only a small cost, but either way you’re paying,” said Mr Sutton.
Despite plastic recycling being widely available, reports by the Australian Department of the Environment and Heritage have suggested as little as three percent of them end up being recycled.
“Plastic bags are a huge issue for the environment, simply due to the sheer amount of them that are produced, and the lengths of time it takes for them to completely biodegrade,” said Mr Sutton.
“Thousands of marine animals die every year because of plastic bag pollution in the ocean. We have to get people to understand how important this is, and how they can help.”