The supermarket giant on Wednesday made a decision to provide its thick, reusable plastic bags for free indefinitely, instead of charging 15 cents each as part of its program to get shoppers to switch from using single-use plastic bags.
A Coles spokeman defended the move telling news.com.au: "When Coles phased out single-use plastic bags on July 1 in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, some customers told us they needed more time to make the transition to reusable bags".
The backlash prompted Coles to offer free reusable plastic bags to customers until August 1, to help them get their heads around the change.
The transition from single-use plastic bags to reusable plastic bags in Coles and Woolworths took place on July 1.
Greenpeace criticised the decision as irresponsible and disappointing, saying that Coles is perpetuating the problem of plastic waste by providing free bags.
Coles offered them through July and then yesterday announced an "indefinite" extension to the giveaway, which in turn sparked an additional backlash from recycling advocates who said the lack of value in the bags would effectively turn them into single use.
"Many customers bringing bags from home are still finding themselves short a bag or two so we are offering complimentary reusable Better Bags to help them complete their shopping", the Coles spokesperson said.
Coles and rival Woolworths both recently banned single-use plastic bags and began selling reusable bags instead.
A leading Australian supermarket was Thursday forced into a backflip after facing a barrage of criticism for reneging on plans to phase out free plastic bags.
"Giving away reusable plastic bags is an environmental disaster, this just increases the amount of plastic that will now make its way into our waterways", he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Environmental groups had hit out at Coles since their decision to extend the give-away period indefinitely, saying it was an "environmental disaster".
"Removing the price means that these reusable bags are far more likely to be used once and discarded".
"Coles' colossal plastic bag fail" and "Coles caves" ran headlines on Australia's main news sites.
NSW Labor and the Greens called on Premier Gladys Berejiklian to introduce a state-wide ban on single use bags.
Sally Edsall was also displeased.
Coles will give its "Better Bags" away for free. The only good part of this was the 15c charge, which would change people's behaviour over time.
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