Supermarket greenwash does not wash with me

Anita Horan will not be silenced

Woolworths, one of Australia’s ‘big two’ supermarket chains can’t win. They’re damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t. The truth is, the plastic problem they face is of their own making. Now they don’t know how to fix it, or they don’t want to, not really.

I see Woolworths’ plastic problem as squeezing air into different parts of a balloon. They push it from one end, only for it to appear at the other end. Rather than remove or reduce plastic, they shape-shift the problem into another form.

To maximise profits, Woolworths has designed a customer shopping experience that is frictionless. From trolleys that glide across smooth floors to the soundtrack of relaxing in-store music, to the strategic lights that present the plastic wrapped bananas as shiny, hand-wrapped gifts. The cherry on the sundae, the icing on the cake, or the chocolate on the pillow – was unlimited free bags at the checkout! Well, we deserved them, didn’t we? The survival of the planet be damned.

I have been at war with Woolworths over their plastic usage for three years, spending twenty hours a week exposing their wastefulness and researching what our collective ‘plastic obsession’ is doing to our planet. From whales with stomachs full of shopping bags to millions of tonnes of our plastic waste shredded and sprayed onto our food crop fields (a scientist specialising in microplastics told me this 😮). We’re all using plastic in such quantities that it’s ending up in our food and water. You may even be drinking plastic particles next time you have a beer with your best mate at a barbie.

Poor Woolworths. I haven’t let them get away with their excessive use of plastic, hounding them in a public forum – social media. They’ve responded to my badgering with passive cut-and-paste statements about their commitment to reduce packaging. In other words, greenwash. Their empty platitudes, claiming they were going green just made me see red.

Anita Horan compares tomatoes
Poor Woolworths. I haven’t let them get away with their excessive use of plastic, hounding them in a public forum – social media.

When Woolworths announced their own voluntary ‘Bag Ban’, cautious optimism lightened my mood. It was short lived. Woolworths created convenient loopholes for themselves and shoppers who still wanted their plastic bag fix. Buy three, get two free. Plus, lifetime replacement warranties. All clever ways of still giving away plastic bags while pretending they weren’t.

I almost have sympathy for their plight. Woolworths is trying to appease both plastic lovers and haters. By doing so, they’ve either made shoppers angry, or convinced them to jump through the loopholes with them.

Before Woolworths recent promise to reduce plastic in-store, I trialled their home delivery service, ordering only unpackaged fruit and vegetables, with no request whatsoever for plastic bags. I received thirty-four plastic bags, ten large carry bags and additional thin ones for individual items, like one bulb of garlic. I was livid and posted a video to social media of the result. It had over a quarter of a million views!

Surely Woolworths’ new ‘green outlook’ would affect their home delivery service? Not really. You now have two choices.

Option 1: pay $1 for unlimited plastic carry bags, that are even thicker than the ones that have been withdrawn. They claim these new bags are made of 80% recycled materials and can be down-cycled into garden furniture. The problem is they are creating more waste by switching from thin bags to thicker ones. They call these thicker bags reusable, but they’re not much stronger than the ones we’ve been using for years even though they use more plastic. By charging a minimal fee for as many as it takes, is a clever loophole to give away endless horrendous plastic bags. If you order every week, you’ll easily end up with five- hundred thick plastic bags every year. How is that green? By charging $1 they have managed to upset both their regular customers who are used to getting their self-entitled free bags, and the environmentally mindful customers who see it as total greenwash BS.

Option 2: pay $3.50 for the ‘crate-to-bench’ service. Your groceries will be packed into re-usable plastic crates, and the smiling delivery person will unpack your groceries onto your kitchen bench and take the crate away.

Woolworths home delivery driver
Until recently, this is the image Woolworths used to advertise their home delivery service. Ummm, where’s all the plastic that usually accompanies a home delivery order?

Some customers who have trialled the new ‘crate-to-bench’ service have contacted me, furious that many of the fresh produce items, plus cold and frozen foods were also bagged. They felt totally ripped off, as they specifically paid extra for a bagless service, yet they were left with twenty thin and unnecessary, planet-polluting plastic bags. But hey, for $3.50 you can skip the ten thick carry bags. This has created a backlash from customers who want to do the right thing. They feel they are being ripped off and see the additional $2.50 to skip the large bags as a penalty. No one likes being ripped off, everyone loves to save a few dollars. Shouldn’t the people using plastic bags incur the environmental fine? Woolies, where’s the incentive to go green?

Anita Horan with lots of plastic bags
All this unnecessary plastic came with my online fresh produce order.

I suggest Woolworths follow their competitor Coles and waive the crate service fee. Also, give it a green name, maybe ‘No bag, free delivery, crate service’. A real incentive for people to forego plastic bags.

Woolworths, you had me at ‘crate-to-bench,’ you lost me with the $3.50 penalty for requesting plastic free produce.

Note: A business magazine approached me to write this opinion piece about Woolworths’ new home delivery service. I did not water down my opinion, so they rejected it 😂 My solution – publish it myself. You can read more of my controversial opinions in my tell-all eBook, Plastic Girl!

16 Replies to “Supermarket greenwash does not wash with me”

  1. Fine article Anita… pity the magazine did not have the integrity and courage to publish something that is :
    a) factually accurate and
    b) spoken from the heart
    I guess it will be a constant struggle against corporate vested interests and “politically” motivated publishing editors who are constantly persuaded by advertising incomes . All this coupled with ignorance of how critical it is to make huge changes in plastic use.

  2. This article made me feel sick.
    It reminded me of how mcdonalds have introduced recycling bins and ask everyone to separate their cups and bags and food into separate bins. Of course we all know that greasy paper bags cannot be recycled and the plastic lined paper cups are terrifically difficult to recycle. Where is the recycling going? Not to the recycling centre i imagine.

  3. I suspect we have only two real options:

    1. Violent revolution (not really suggesting we should have one)

    2. political power

    Run for office, Anita.

    If the looney shooters and rev heads can claim seats, soneone with your integrity and passion should be a two time senator, at least.

    How much could you achieve in eight years?

    We must fight these bastards with laws and policy. There is no other option.

    Recycling will never stop them ; it just makes room for more new plastic.

  4. LMAFO Bravo Anita! Ripped into Woolies with this article that is just brutally honest. I perhaps would have led with the story of the delivery service before letting off the biodegradable grenade but no matter-you’ve got enough followers to share this. Post a link on Facebook and Instagram! I’ll definitely share it. Woolies can suffer in their plastic jocks! 😂😂👍🏽🌏

  5. I am really glad that you published this article, not only to hold Woolworths accountable but also to prove how silly their system is when you lay down all the facts.

  6. Good work Anita. I’m also on the same war. Seeing the horrible affects happening to Our health. And BTW why plastic crates ? Those are not green either. There are Alternatives. Think of all the crates that are being produced and land up in the landfill, oceans and inour bodies…

  7. I shop online at Both Coles and Woolies. Coles bagless generally for me means one lone bag (for the frozen items) and everything else is definitely bagless.
    Woolies however… I did not want to pay the extra fee for bagless (especially as strictly speaking, it isn’t) so I opted for bags thinking as my order was not large I’d only get one or two bags at the most. Instead, for 10 items there were SIX bags! The bags are thick too which means more plastic – we’d be better off with the old grey ones. I now only shop at Woolies if I have no choice.

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