Are you ready for a plastic revolution?

10 May, 2018 by
FMCG Business
Kiri Hannifin, Countdown’s General Manager Corporate Affairs


Plastic pollution is an increasing problem in many countries, affecting waterways, oceans and ultimately wildlife and humans, as plastic particles begin to infiltrate our foodchain. However, New Zealand’s big supermarkets have started to tackle the plastic challenge.


About 350 million single-use plastic bags are used every year at Countdown checkouts across New Zealand, but from 21 May 2018, 10 Countdown supermarkets will no longer supply single-use plastic bags at the checkout. The first stores selected for the plastic-bag phase-out are Dargaville, Aviemore Drive (located in Highland Park, Auckland), Roselands (Papakura, Auckland), Northwest (Massey, Auckland), Johnsonville Mall, Wellington, Victoria Ave (Whanganui), Redwoodtown (Blenheim), Ferrymead (Christchurch), Grey Lynn (Richmond Road, Auckland), and Gisborne.

These ten stores will provide customer feedback and other learnings that will roll out across all Countdown’s 182 supermarket before the end of 2018. Kiri Hannifin, Countdown’s General Manager Corporate Affairs, says change is never easy, but there’s no question that getting rid of 350 million plastic bags every year is the right thing to do.

“We’ve all seen the pictures of our environment and marine life suffering because of plastic pollution, and the impact on our ecosystems is unacceptable. The debate is over on why we are doing this and now it’s time to get moving,” says Hannifin.

“These ten supermarkets are just the start, but they’re of huge importance to test what’s been in planning over the past months. Moving away from 350 million plastic bags takes a fair bit of work behind the scenes and by our team in our stores; these first stores will test our thinking, our training and our processes to ultimately help ensure a smooth transition for all of our customers and team when we make the change across the country.”

Countdown says that since it announced its decision to phase out single-use plastic carrier bags last year, customers have already reduced their use of plastic bags by just over 16%.

Ready for checkouts without single-use plastic bags?

Last year New World started the debate around plastic bags, and New Zealanders overwhelmingly expressed their desire to get rid of single-use plastic bags at the checkout. But, are we ready as a nation to go cold turkey on bags by the end of the year?

Foodstuffs NI Chief Executive, Chris Quin.

Foodstuffs North Island CEO Chris Quin reckons we’re maybe not fully ready yet, but we’re making great progress. “When New World made the commitment to go single-use plastic bag free at the checkout by the end of 2018, we knew it was a mammoth task, but one that needed to be done. Simply banning the bag is a relatively mechanical process, and not too hard to achieve, however the real trick is helping our customers make the adjustment. Then we have to look at choosing the right alternatives for those of us who, despite our best efforts are going to be caught short without our reusable bags. We will need something to put our groceries in.”

Foodstuffs believes they’re on the right track. New World has been taking a lead on helping to drive the change with consumers. Over the last six months they have given away more than two million long-life reusable bags.

Quin says: “The goal was pretty simple; we wanted to fill up our customers’ car boots with reusable bags so they always had an alternative to a single-use plastic bag on hand. New World has also been trialling signage to remind customers to bring their own bags and we’ve invested heavily in the nationwide ‘Bags Not’ campaign to promote the use of reusable alternatives.”

The big question is: “Is it working?”

“You bet,” affirms Quin, “Aside from the reusable bags we’ve given away, the sales of long-life reusable bags have increased by 600%, and our stores have noticed a big drop in the number of single-use plastic bags being used. Across the board we are seeing customers wanting to make further reductions, which is extremely positive.”

Foodstuffs is now ready to announce the next wave of initiatives to help customers get ready for the transition. “To avoid confusion between our stores we will align the removal of single-use plastic bags at the checkout across all our major supermarkets. PAK’nSAVE and Four Square will be joining New World in removing single-use plastic bags from the checkout.”

Foodstuffs will also start trialling alternatives for customers who get caught short. Over the coming weeks customers will see a heavy duty reusable plastic bag available for sale in selected stores. Quin says, “These are a good option for bags which will be used a few times but they won’t last for years. At the end of their life they can safely enter the soft plastics recycling stream. Foodstuffs supermarkets account for the top 10 soft plastics recyclers. Our customers really get it and are keen to make a change.”

Foodstuffs is also testing a paper grocery bag as another option that will be available for sale at the checkout. These have the advantage of being suitable for kerbside recycling bins.