South Africa’s Woolworths to Trial Plastic Bag Free Store

South African department store chain Woolies announced Monday that it will remove single-use plastic bags from one of its Cape Town stores during a six-month trial period… in a bid to end plastic pollution.

A man leaves a Woolworths shop in Sandton, northern Johannesburg, file. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

From November, Woolworths – which also has operations in Australia and New Zealand – will not offer any plastic bags at its Steenberg store in Cape Town. Customers will instead have the choice of either bringing their own sacks or paying R5.50 for a reusable bag.

Unlike some countries around the world, South Africa doesn’t have a law banning plastic bags. However, to reduce littering and discourage customers from buying them, South Africa increased the plastic bag levy in April by 50 % to 12 cents per bag.

Woolworths’ head of sustainability Feroz Koor said research had shown that the levy introduced in 2003 has not curbed the country’s plastic shopping bag consumption.

He said the retailer aims to phase out plastic bags by 2020.

“When you consider that Woolworths currently sells about 140 million plastic bags a year, which is between six to seven tonnes of plastic, helping consumers choose reusable bags will make a significant impact on reducing plastic waste,” Koor said in a statement.

Supermarkets have come under increased pressure to cut their use of plastic as images of littered oceans and beaches become commonplace, shocking consumers and shareholders.

The U.N. wants to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022 and says more than 60 countries have taken steps to ban or reduce plastic consumption.

More than 40 other countries have banned, partly banned or taxed single use plastic bags, including China, France, Rwanda, and Italy. Kenya last year imposed the world’s toughest law against plastic bags – those breaking the law risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla,; Editing by James Macharia, Ed Osmond and Jenni Baxter)