BAG BAN DEADLINE: 1 JULY 2018                 TOLL FREE ADVICE: 1800 RETAIL

MANAGING THE QLD BAG BAN > 5 KEY STEPS

2. Consider your options & make business decisions

As a business owner or senior manager, you will need to consider the options available to you and make the best decisions for your business.

 

How do I know if my current bags are included in the ban?

The Queensland Government’s ban relates to singlet-style plastic shopping bags with a thickness under 35 microns, whether made of HDPE* plastic, biodegradable, or degradable material.

See examples of which bags are banned and which are allowed >>

If you are unsure whether your current bag is under 35 microns, you will need to ask your supplier for evidence of the bags density or weight.

Do I need to provide a bag?

You are not required to provide customers with a bag.

The plastic bag ban is an opportunity to assess whether a bag is necessary for your type of business. You may wish to measure customer traffic or observe customer behaviour for a few weeks and consider:

  • What types of products do you offer? Are they big or small? Light or heavy?
  • What is the typical basket size and basket count? Do customers usually buy just a few items at a time?
  • Do you provide a bag with every purchase or do you usually ask customers when they have a few items?
  • How often do customers ask for a bag?
  • How do think customers would react if you didn’t provide a bag? Have you ever run out of bags and not been able to provide them – how did customers react?

Bunnings offer empty product boxes to carry items

By watching and measuring customer behaviour, you may find that your customers don’t need or expect a bag.

Another option is to assess whether your product packaging can be adapted to have handles or an easier way to carry it. For example soft drink cartons have inbuilt handles rather than requiring a bag.

Another great option is to assess whether a waste product can be used to carry goods. For example, can you provide recycled boxes from unpacking your stock, as implemented by Dan Murphy’s and Bunnings stores? This has the added benefit of reducing the cost of recycling the cardboard yourself.

If you decide that your business will no longer supply bags to customers, you will need to prepare your team and customers for the change. Download the free NRA resources here >>

If none of the above options will suit your business, and you decide to continue offering bags to customers, the next step should be to assess what alternative bags are available.

What alternative bags are best for my business?

If you have decided to continue offering bags to customers, you need to ensure these are compliant, as well as being practical and suitable to your business needs. There are many alternative bags available – or you could even design your own. Some of the things to consider when weighing up alternatives are:

  • What size and weight are your products?
  • Will you need multiple bag sizes and options?
  • How much do the alternative bags cost?
  • How reusable are they (i.e. care, longevity, cleanliness)?
  • Are they recyclable at the end of their useful life?
  • What option aligns with your brand (i.e. quality, image, country of origin, eco status)?
  • Will you brand the bags? Can we add value to our brand and marketing efforts with our bags?
  • Do your bags need to meet food safety standards ie. will they come into contact with foodstuffs?
  • Do you need handles? How strong must these be?
  • What would your customers expect you to offer?
  • What would consumers be prepared to pay for?

Note: The NRA strongly recommends against using lightweight plastic singlet bags close to 35 microns thick. Read why here >

The following lists the most common alternative bags available, and some of the pros and cons of each.

1. Reusable woven bags

  • often called ‘green’ bags, commonly used by supermarkets
  • includes variations – some have a plastic insert base, some are adapted to cooler bags
  • relatively cost-effective compared to other alternative bags
  • simple branding can be printed on the bag
  • consumers are already familiar with the reusable nature of these bags
  • consumers already expect to pay a small fee for these bags

2. Calico/Fabric reusable bags

  • fabric shopping bags, often made of calico, hessian, cotton or bamboo
  • tend to be more expensive than other options but do tend to be the most durable
  • statement branding and patterns are popular, creating higher perceived value
  • tend to be used by consumers for longer periods and less likely to be thrown out
  • consumers seem to be willing to pay a few dollars per printed calico bag

3. Paper bags

  • small and medium paper bags are often used by food outlets, such as fast food and bakeries. Pharmacies and newsagents also use paper bags.
  • can be flat or have fold-out bases, can have handles
  • cost-effective compared to other alternative bags
  • can be raw or coloured, and can be made from recycled paper
  • branding can be printed or stamped on the bags at low cost
  • consumers are aware that these bags are recyclable
  • most suited to small items, though larger bags can be reinforced or fold out to accommodate larger light-weight items

A selection of the Detpak and PaperPak ranges

 

4. Premium cardboard bags

  • often used by department stores, fashion boutiques and jewellery stores
  • may have cut-out, rope, ribbon or plastic handles
  • vary in weight, size and quality
  • tend to be considered higher quality or ‘premium’ by customers
  • provide high quality branding opportunities but do cost more than most other alternatives
  • even though they incur a higher cost, customers are not familiar with being charged for these types of bags so retailers usually incorporate the cost of the bag into a product’s price
  • generally reusable and recyclable

 

5. Heavyweight plastic bags

  • usually more than 60 microns thick
  • most commonly used by department stores, fashion boutiques and supermarkets
  • come in various sizes but most popular for large items or large basket counts
  • branding is printed on the plastic pre-production
  • reusable though this can depend on the size, brand popularity and durability
  • recyclable at soft plastic recyclers
  • some retailers provide these bags free to the customer but consumers have also show willingness to pay a small amount per reusable plastic bag (eg. Aldi)

Note: The NRA strongly recommends against using lightweight plastic singlet bags close to 35 microns thick. Read why here >

6. Other options

  • there are many creative, eye-catching options
  • some retailers have chosen to make a statement with their bags and packaging, aligning this with their brand
  • some retailers have decided to add bags as a high volume product line that doubles as branding
  • there is growing popularity for reusable bags that fold or scrunch up so that they are easily slipped into a handbag or glovebox (see samples below). This may present an opportunity for retailers to sell these bags.

 

Should I charge customers for bags?

As outlined in the examples above, each alternative bag has advantages and disadvantages. Some bags cost more per unit but similarly customers seem willing to pay for more reusable bags.

Note: The NRA has found that 80% of shoppers are willing to pay for a paper, cloth or non-woven ‘green’ bag. Conversely, only 24% are willing to pay for a plastic bag even if it is compliant.

You can either provide no bag at all, supply alternative bags free to your customers, offer them for sale, or a combination of the latter two:

  1. Provide no bag (customer must bring their own)
    If you have previously provided free lightweight plastic bags to your customers, and you remove the banned bags without providing a replacement, you should save on business costs. However you should carefully manage the transition to ensure customers are informed and prepared for the change to avoid negative feedback or loss of business.
    .
  2. Provide alternative bags to customers at no charge
    Most reusable bags carry a higher unit cost than lightweight plastic bags, so if you choose to supply the new alternatives free to customers you may incur higher business costs. You might choose to do this, for example, if you believe that consumers expect a free bag in your retail category, you want to increase ‘walk-around’ exposure of your brand, your competitors are using it as a sales advantage, or you can accommodate the additional cost in your product margins.
    .
  3. Offer alternative bags for sale
    Retailers have been introducing reusable bags over the past ten years in Australia, with many now charging a small amount per bag – creating widespread consumer familiarity with paying for reusable bags.  Large retailers tend to be providing a range of bags for sale at different price-points to suit customer budgets. Smaller retailers may only need to offer one or two size and price options.
    This option presents a positive opportunity for retailers to recoup the cost of bags while giving people the choice to avoid a charge by bringing their own bag, rather than increasing the cost of all products to all customers. Note: Consumers appear to be willing to pay for quality, truly reusable bags and seem reluctant to pay for plastic bags which look or feel similar to banned bags even if they are technically compliant.
    .
  4. Combination of free and charged bags
    Particular retailers, such as pharmacies, may choose to provide recyclable paper bags for small items at no charge, while charging for larger reusable bags.

 

Please note: you cannot supply banned bags from 1 July 2018 – regardless of whether they are free or charged.

What processes need to change?

Any change in the bags you offer or sell will mean some change in your business processes – whether as simple as displaying signage or as extensive as reconfiguring your POS area and packing processes.

You should consider questions like:

  • What ordering processes need to change?
  • When will we stop ordering and using banned bags?
  • Do your new bags will need associated equipment such as holders or racks?
  • Will your team pack bags or will customers pack their own? Will this effect the speed of service?
  • Will your team need OH&S training, policies regarding cleanliness of consumers’ bags, or additional packing space?
  • How will you promote the new bags?
  • How will you handle potential objections or issues?
  • How can you make this change into a positive marketing or customer engagement opportunity?

Important: the Government will not reimburse you for leftover banned bags

What are other retailers doing?

Many retailers have been preparing to replace single-use plastic bags over the past ten years. The following examples illustrate some of the solutions retailers have undertaken:

  • Supermarket chain Aldi has only ever offered reusable heavy-duty plastic and green bags available for its customers to buy since opening in Australia in 2001.
  • In 2003, Bunnings introduced a 10c charge per plastic bag, which resulted in a 99% reduction in bag usage over five years. In 2008, it removed plastic bags from its outlets altogether, replacing them with reusable bags and cardboard boxes.
  • IKEA removed plastic bags in 2008.
  • Australia Post stopped offering plastic bags in 2009.
  • In July 2017 Coles, Woolworths and Harris Farm Markets announced that they will be ceasing to supply lightweight plastic bags, not only in Queensland, but nationwide, from 1 July 2018.

 

Over the past 12 months, the NRA has visited over 15,000 retailers across Queensland and found many to be using alternative bags already with great success. See case studies here >

 

What should I do with unused banned bags?

It is important to note that no grace period applies in Queensland and fines apply from 1 July 2018. You must not supply a banned bag from 1 July even if you are left with unused stock. There is no compensation for unused stock.

If you are left with unused stock at the ban deadline, you can recycle soft plastics at a local recycler like REDcycle or you may be able to sell or exchange product with counterparts in jurisdictions where bag bans are not in place. Contact your local council to find out more about recycling facilities near you.

Please note: the advice provided on this website is designed to assist retailers in understanding the ban and weighing up options but is by no means exhaustive. Each retail business should assess and make decisions based on their own advice and situation.