The decision by three Walcha residents late last year to try to do something about the single use plastic shopping bag problem at a grassroots level has been strongly supported by the community and now two of the biggest retailers in Australia have seen the light.
“I’m glad they have caught up and are following our cause,” said Cherie Pethard.
Mrs Pethard, Caroly Laurie and Carolyn Salter held a meeting with the majority of Walcha retailers in October 2016 to discuss ending the ubiquitous use of plastic bags by shoppers.
Last week it was announced that single-use plastic bags would be a thing of the past at the checkouts of Woolworths and Coles in the next 12 months, but Mrs Pethard hopes that will happen in half that time in Walcha.
“I believe we will be free of single use plastic shopping bags in Walcha in six months,” she said.
Most local retailers told the Walcha News they are only using up current stock, while others who will keep some stocks of plastic bags say they are not single use and when asked most customers refuse to take them anyway.
“We have had great support from the local business community and Walcha Council, and we are thrilled with the response to date,” said Mrs Pethard.
“Walcha Council distributed 3,000 reusable bags to ratepayers earlier this year, and the majority of Walcha’s retailers are onboard.”
On Monday Chris Page, the president of Walcha’s business association ‘Walcha Together’, presented Mrs Pethard with a cheque for $200.
The money will be used for an incentive to encourage the use of cloth bags over plastic.
“We feel that this is a good time for people to join the campaign of the Walcha Bag Ladies to rid Walcha of plastic bags,” said Mr Page.
Both supermarkets in Walcha will continue to encourage shoppers to use their own bags, but single use plastic bags are still available if required.
“The reaction from customers has been great, and we are using a lot less plastic bags now,” said Foodworks manager Jo Taylor.
“The feedback from customers on our initiatives to reduce the use of single use plastic has been very positive.”
In a shock announcement on Friday afternoon, Woolworths revealed it would shortly begin phasing out the bags in supermarkets, Big W and BWS stores, with a total ban in place by June 30 next year.
The move was welcomed by environmental groups, which have long campaigned for a national plastic bag ban, and prompted calls for Woolworths' chief competitor to follow suit.
Less than two hours later, Coles announced it, too, would be phasing out single-use plastic bags over the next 12 months.
It is understood Woolworths was unaware Coles would be making an equivalent announcement on Friday.
The phase-out will bring stores for both supermarket giants in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia in line with those in other states and territories where plastic bag bans have been legislated.
South Australia, ACT, the Northern Territory and Tasmania have already implemented state-wide bans, while there are plans in place for Queensland to do the same next year.