Coles warns
Coles warns

Coles got it right with bag backflip

WELL, don't I feel silly.

There I was scanning my purchases at the Coles the other morning at 6.30am - short of ten minutes before midnight, it's the best time to get groceries - when, in a fit of virtuousness, I "scanned" one of their new "better bags" so I wouldn't have to negotiate the trip from the car to the front door with an armload of bread and tinned tomatoes and tonic water.

And now having dropped 15 cents for the cause, Coles comes along and tells us the things are actually free, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

As a spokesperson told the press today, "Some customers told us they needed more time to make the transition to reusable bags."

Well, hallelujah to that.

In a rare case of corporate sanity and responsiveness, the penny has dropped with Coles' bosses.

They seem to have realised that paying customers don't like to be inconvenienced, or more to the point, made to pay for something (either with cash or the effort of remembering to store and schlep one's own sacks around) that had since time immemorial been free.

Particularly when pretty much everything sold in a supermarket comes wrapped in plastic, it's not surprising Australians were sceptical that any of this was really about "treading more lightly upon the Earth", or whatever it is they say these days.

Coles will keep giving away free plastic bags for the foreseeable future after consumer outrage over having to remember reusable bags. (Pic: Peter Rae/AAP)
Coles will keep giving away free plastic bags for the foreseeable future after consumer outrage over having to remember reusable bags. (Pic: Peter Rae/AAP)

Granted, 15 cents a bag is not quite the same as the $6 sauce surcharge at a Sydney cafe that made international headlines earlier this year.

But in a nation where it seems someone is always picking our pocket with fees and levies and fines both obvious and not, it was the sort of surcharge that rankled far out of proportion with the economics or inconvenience.

Like the beleaguered Americans in the classic movie Network who go to their windows and yell, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more", when the bag ban was announced it was just enough to make Australians take to their keyboards and yell, "I already pay some of the highest power bills on Earth to save the environment, can't I just get my shopping home in peace?"

Of course, we haven't entirely returned to normal.

Coles' "better bags" may be stronger and carry more cans, but their very size and thickness makes them impractical for the many jobs for which Australians had previously used so-called "single use" bags.

They are more suited to picking up after an elephant than even the most ambitious Great Dane.

And unless you have children the size of Andre the Giant, they aren't much chop for school lunches either.

Sure, as things go, it's not quite like waking up to find out that while the good news is we won World War II, the bad news is we had to give half of Europe to the commies. "Better" bags are better than no bags as far as this shopper is concerned.

But for as long as they remain gratis, this whole episode will be remembered not as an exercise in consumer hysteria (as some have painted it) but rather excellent result for people power and market forces.

Even if greenies will say that this proves that one man's free marketeer is another's environmental terrorist.

James Morrow is Opinion Editor of the Daily Telegraph.