The Woolworths plastic bag ban kicks on today. Picture: Dallas Kilponen/PPR/Woolworths
The Woolworths plastic bag ban kicks on today. Picture: Dallas Kilponen/PPR/Woolworths

Woolies CEO’s embarrassing reveal

WOOLWORTHS chief executive Brad Banducci has admitted he gets "confused" between gourmet and truss tomatoes when using self-service check-outs, as new figures reveal a shocking number of Aussies are intentionally scanning items incorrectly to snag a discount.

Speaking to Channel 7's Sunrise to mark the start of the supermarket's plastic bag ban on Wednesday, Mr Banducci was asked to address new research that suggested 16 per cent of shoppers were still scamming self-service check-outs, either by scanning items incorrectly or stealing outright.

The figures from research firm Canstar were largely unchanged from two years ago, suggesting efforts by Coles and Woolworths to cut down on their combined self-service theft bill - thought to be nearly $1 billion annually - have been largely unsuccessful.

"Our customers want more and more convenience in their shopping, they're under time pressure and they want to make it as easy as possible and self-service check-outs provide a solution," Mr Banducci said.

"In terms of the stats you saw, I need to look at them a lot more, but I can tell you there are two different sets of customers.

"Yes, there are some that don't scan accurately because they're trying to take something, but there's another group of customers - and I count myself among them - who generally get confused on what is a gourmet tomato versus a truss tomato, so we've got to also make it easier for our customers to use the self-service check-outs."

On the plastic bag ban, Mr Banducci said the decision was made due to customer feedback and denied the company would make money off the 15-cent and 99-cent reusable bags.

"We've done a lot of research on what our customers want to see from us, and one of the issues they do want to see is leadership in the area of the environment," he said. "So [it's] driven by our customers but also by our concern and commitment to building a greener, more sustainable Australia.

"It isn't a money-making proposition, it had been one of the things that's been said out there, nothing could be further from the truth. And to try and dispel that, we've got our 99-cent Bag for Good.

"All profits from that bag will go back to Junior Landcare and really help communities in Australia build more activism by the youth around doing good things for the environment."

Asked what customers would use to line their bins, Mr Banducci did take a moment to spruik the supermarkets plastic bin liners. He said there was a "component" of customers who reused the plastic bags as bin liners, but "most of the bags actually ended up in the environment".

"We've been working very hard to give you the right choices at the right prices in our grocery aisle, we've got a good biodegradable bag that's now available and you'll see a lot more delivery of value and compostable and biodegradable options in our grocery aisles," he said.

Meanwhile, the retail workers union has urged customers not to take their frustration out on staff as the plastic bag ban kicks in.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association's "Don't Bag Retail Staff" campaign is part of the union's ongoing efforts to stop abusive behaviour towards retail workers.

According to the SDA, a poll of 6000 retail and fast food workers last year found more than 85 per cent of reported experiencing abuse from customers at work.

"We welcome this positive change for the environment and remind customers to bring their own reusable bag or simply purchase one at the checkout," SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said in a statement.

"While we understand that some customers may be frustrated by this change, there is no excuse for abusive or violent behaviour towards retail staff."

The union has also reminded staff about their rights as the change comes into effect, including not overloading bags at the customer's request and not handling extremely dirty or unhygienic bags.

"This will be a change for retail staff, but they should always follow safe work practices and report any abusive or violent behaviour from customers about the changes to their supervisor," Mr Dwyer said.

"The SDA has and continues to consult with employers to ensure they are supporting staff through this change including providing training on the new rules and support for workers reporting incidents of abusive behaviour from customers.

"Retail workers should not have to bear the brunt of any abusive behaviour, just for following the new rules. Please be prepared, and please, don't bag retail staff. After all, no one deserves a serve simply for doing their job."

From July 1, single-use plastic bags will be banned in Queensland and Western Australia, bringing them into line with South Australia - the first state to ban the bag in 2009 - the ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania. Victoria will ban plastic bags, but is yet to announce a start date.

NSW now stands alone, but with Coles and Woolworths both opting for a full nationwide ban, there are growing calls for the federal government to step in with legislation.

"This surely must be the tipping point for [environment minister] Josh Frydenberg to take some sort of national action on plastic bags," said environmental campaigner Jon Dee, who started the National Plastic Bag Campaign in 2002.

"What I've noticed in South Australia and Tasmania in particular is you're now starting to see people just trying to get around the bans. There are some who make the bag just slightly thicker than the 35 micron legal limit and giving them away. That really is an abuse of the process."

Mr Dee said according to his estimates, based on recently released figures from the supermarkets about the number of plastic bags they distribute each year, Australians had used at least 100 billion plastic bags since 2002.

"All the old figures the government had were grossly underestimated," he said. "They've all ended up in the environment or in landfill. It really is crazy how big the problem has been."

 

frank.chung@news.com.au


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