Businesses are not required to provide customers with a bag. Many retailers are taking the opportunity of the state-wide ban to reconsider whether they will offer free carry bags to customers.


Do you need to provide a shopping bag?

Retailers are not required by law to offer a shopping bag to customers. The plastic bag ban is an opportunity to assess whether a shopping 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?

    Bunnings offer empty product boxes to carry 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?

By watching and measuring customer behaviour, you may find that your customers don’t need or expect a carry bag, especially if your staff ask “Do you need 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 Government-endorsed signage and 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.


I still want to provide bags, what are my options?

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?



Types of alternative bags

The following lists the most common alternative bags available, and some of the pros and cons of each. We have tried to give rough indications of costs and consumer willingness to pay however each business should assess their particular business model and customer before making a decision. Costs will vary greatly based on size, quality, branding and purchase volume.

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
  • simple branding can be printed on the bag
  • average cost $1 to $2 depending on size, gusset, quality, volume and branding
  • consumers are already familiar with the reusable nature of these bags
  • consumers already expect to pay a small fee for these bags – most retailers charge between 99c and $5 depending on the quality and size

2. Calico/Fabric reusable bags

  • fabric shopping bags, often made of calico, hessian, cotton or bamboo
  • tend to be more expensive than other options costing more than $2 per unit but do tend to be the most durable and seem to have a more positive consumer image
  • 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 between $2 and $5 for a stylish calico or fabric bag

3. 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 (from 50c to $3 per unit)
  • 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

4. 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
  • roughly cost from 10c-50c for a simple paper bag, more for a premium, handled bag (depending on purchase volume)
  • can be raw or coloured, and can be made from recycled paper
  • branding can be printed or stamped on the bags with relative ease – some businesses stamp their own
  • handles vary greatly and businesses should consider whether the handles are fit for purpose (eg. strong enough) and/or recyclable
  • 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
  • customers are generally not prepared to pay for these bags
  • Many national food chains have already replaced plastic carry bags with paper bags, eg. McDonalds, Burger Urge

Paper vs plastic – read our review here >

5. Thicker plastic bags

  • most commonly used by department stores, fashion boutiques and supermarkets
  • tend to be thicker than 50 microns, many are 80 microns
  • do not look like the shape of singlet bags with a larger, sturdier shape
  • come in various sizes but most popular for large items or large basket counts
  • branding is printed on the plastic pre-production
  • similar cost to paper bags (10c – $1) depending on thickness, quality, printing and purchase volume
  • reusable though this can be impacted by thickness, quality and durability
  • some available in recycled materials eg. 80% recycled post-consumer waste
  • recyclable at soft plastic recyclers (eg. RedCycle bins)
  • 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)
  • if charging for these bags the most common price is 15c per bag

6. Other options

  • there are many creative, eye-catching shopping bags on the market now
  • 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.

Not sure which is the right choice for your business? See what other retailers are doing >>


Related articles:

Unsure if your bag will be banned? Contact the National Retail Association >>