The Victorian bag ban applies to ALL businesses that sell goods.
This includes supermarkets, greengrocers, bakeries, pharmacies, clothes stores, restaurants, cafes, markets, food outlets, and many more... including online sales.
All businesses should carefully weigh their options and consider what retailers in other states have learnt, even if you currently use a legal plastic bag.
The NRA has assisted thousands of businesses across Australia in managing bag bans, and the following advice is based on real-world, Australian retailer experiences.
MANAGING THE BAN
Key steps to manage the ban
Each business has unique needs and costs, and you should weigh up the best long-term option for your business.
Even if your bags are technically legal, there is increasing impetus and support for businesses choosing more sustainable solutions.
WEIGHING UP YOUR NEEDS
Some of the things to consider when weighing up alternatives are:
- Do you need to offer a bag at all? How many customers need a bag currently?
- What size and weight are your products?
- Will you need multiple bag sizes and options?
- 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?
- How much do your ideal alternative bags cost?
- Would increased costs per unit be compensated by people taking less?
- What would consumers be prepared to pay for alternative bags?
The following lists the most common alternative bags available, and some of the pros and cons of each.
1. No bag at all
- You are not required to provide customers with a bag and the ban presents an opportunity to assess whether you really need to offer bags at all.
- Retailers in states with existing bag bans report up to 90% decrease in the volume of bags they now provide, and this is important to consider when weighing up more sustainable alternatives, comparing prices and ordering new stock.
- Assess how many customers request carry bags, how many bags you use each day and whether there is an alternative like reusing stock boxes.
- Some businesses can reduce costs substantially just by ceasing to offer bags.
- If you have previously offered bags and plan to cease this, you should inform your customers in advance to avoid issues.
2. Calico/Fabric reusable bags
- fabric shopping bags, often made of calico, hessian, cotton or bamboo
- tend to be more expensive than other options ($1-$5 cost)
- statement branding and patterns are popular, creating higher perceived value
- tend to be the most durable - used by consumers for longer periods and less likely to be thrown out
- The NRA found that consumers are willing to pay on average $2 to $5 for a quality fabric bag.
- You may also be able to arrange Boomerang Bags for your store. Volunteers from all walks of life get together to make reusable ‘boomerang bags’ using recycled materials, as a means to provide a sustainable alternative to plastic bags. The bags are given away to friends, family, colleagues, bagless strangers and so on, as a plastic bag alternative that can be used and reused, or passed on to others in need. Read more about Boomerang Bags >
2. 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
- 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 (try to make all parts of the bag are recyclable eg. handles)
3. Paper bags
- paper bags are used by many retailers including pharmacies, newsagents, bakeries, butchers, food outlets and even UberEats
- can be flat or have fold-out bases
- can have handles or not
- recent advancements mean paper bags can be stronger than plastic bags, even for hot or wet items
- cost-effective compared to other alternative bags
- can be raw or coloured
- can be made from recycled paper
- branding can be printed or stamped on the bags at low cost
- easily recycled
- retailers should investigate the accreditations of suppliers to ensure paper bags are made from sustainable timber sources
- The NRA has found that customers are prepared to pay on average 10c to 50c for a medium paper bag.
4. Reusable non-woven bags
- often called ‘green’ bags, these are made from a plastic that looks like fabric
- 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
- consumers are already familiar with the reusable nature of these bags
- consumers already expect to pay a small fee ($1 to $2) for these bags
5. Heavyweight plastic bags
- usually more than 50 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 (eg. 15c) per reusable plastic bag
- may not be a long-term solution as pressure to reduce the use of plastic is expected to continue.
- 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. This may present an opportunity for retailers to sell these bags.
BAGS TO AVOID
The NRA does NOT recommend that retailers use plastic shopping bags close to the minimum thickness as your business could be exposed to substantial risks such as:
- inconsistent thicknesses across the bag could risk non-compliance
- having to defend the bags because they appear too similar to the one it replaced
- missed opportunity to reduce cost burdens as consumers are more willing to pay for sustainable options
- consumer complaints (96% of submissions to Government were in favour of a ban - strong indication of consumer preference)
Writing on the bag or carton, such as “Bag Ban Approved” or claims of compliance, are not a guarantee that the bags are compliant in Victoria. No plastic bag has been officially approved.
You can contact the NRA's hotline (1800 817 723) if you are unsure about the best alternative bag for your business
You can choose to not offer bags at all if this suits your category and customer.
If you decide to offer bags of some kind, it is your choice whether to introduce bag fees. Many businesses across Australia now charge a small fee for more sustainable bags, and the following advice is based on the real-world experiences of Aussie retailers.
Challenges of introducing bag fees:
- Transition issues - Some customers are likely to complain during the transition period if they feel they were not given adequate notice, however experiences in other states indicate the percentage of customer complaints is quite small and short-lasting.
- POS changes - Bags will need to have a barcode or be entered into your POS system.
- Expectations in your category - Bag fees don't fit every retail category eg. a free quality bag is still largely expected in high-end fashion or jewellery.
Benefits of introducing bag fees:
- Reduce increased costs - More sustainable bags are more expensive than lightweight plastic bags and most businesses cannot afford to give these away and absorb the cost.
- Less changes to POS - Instead of having to increase the price of every product to cover the increased costs, retailers just need to add a few bags as new product lines.
- Customer perception - There is ample evidence that shoppers are now willing to pay a small fee for bags if they forget their own.
- Customers have a choice - Customers can save money if they bring their own bag, rather than every customer having to pay a higher product price.
- Drop in bag volume - When fees are introduced alongside a ban, retailers around Australia have witnessed up to a 90% drop in the number of bags they use, as more consumers remember their own bags or refuse a bag for small purchases. This is good news for retailers, consumers and the environment as less bags need to be produced.
Some retailers choose to use a combination of free and charged bags. For example, many pharmacies, takeaway food outlets and cafes provide small paper bags free-of-charge and then offer a range of larger reusable bags at a fair price.
What's a fair price for a bag?
Bag fees should be fair and in line with industry standards.
The NRA surveyed consumers and found that consumers are more willing to pay for paper, jute, hessian and cloth bags, but are reluctant to pay for plastic bags of any thickness.
Consumers are particularly reluctant to pay for a singlet-style plastic bag which looks similar to a banned bag.
Please note: retailers cannot supply banned plastic bags from November 2019 – regardless of whether they are free or charged.
Retailers should cease buying banned bags as soon as possible and remove any stock before November 2019.
All retailers and suppliers should try to reduce stocks of banned bags as quickly as possible as compensation will not be available for unused stock.
If you are left with unused stock at the ban deadline, you cannot provide these to customers.
What should I do with leftover stock?
If you are left with unused stock at the ban deadline, you may choose to use leftover bags as bin-liners or for other stock-room purposes.
You can also recycle soft plastics at a local recycler like REDcycle. Contact your local government to find out more about recycling facilities near you.
A critical element of managing the ban in your business will be to prepare and train your team, particularly those who have regular contact with customers, such as checkout operators and customer service staff.
Depending on the alternatives you choose to offer, you may also need to consider changes to packing processes, point-of-sale areas and displays, as well as workplace health and safety issues such as packing weights and manual handling.
Start to prepare your staff as soon as possible so that they:
- know the ban deadline & what is banned
- get familiar with your new range of bags
- can answer customer questions about the ban and your businesses' response.
Although the Victorian Government is providing a public education campaign, retailers should be prepared to handle customer queries and objections.
Start to inform your customers at least 1 month before the ban so they are well-prepared for the change.
We recommend displaying the official VIC Bag Ban signage in your store or near the point-of-sale.
If you decide to introduce bag fees, we recommend giving your customers plenty of notice so they can be prepared. You may even choose to reward your regular customers with a free reusable bag for an introductory period while reminding them to bring this bag to avoid fees in the future.
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.