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Aussie Retailers Brave Customer 'Bag Rage' to Save the Planet
The Australian states of Queensland and Western Australia, as well as the supermarket chains Coles, Big W and Woolworths joined the war on plastic pollution July 1 with new restrictions on single-use plastic bags, National Public Radio (NPR) reported. But some angry customers have been fighting back in a phenomenon the press is dubbing "bag rage."
Woolworths decided to stop offering single-use bags on June 20, before the July 1 deadline, charging 15 Australian cents for reusable plastic bags instead, according to BBC News.
But one customer was so enraged by the change, he wrapped his hands around the throat of a Woolworth's employee, The West Australian reported.
"A male customer in the self-serve area swore loudly at a female worker," Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA) assistant secretary Ben Harris told The West Australian. "She provided him with some complimentary bags and apologised. He made a mistake by scanning an item twice, the worker came to help him remove it and he walked up behind her and put his hands around her throat."
The SDA surveyed 132 of its members and found that 57 had faced abuse from customers because of the ban, BBC News reported.
"I'm being told that I'm money-grabbing scum," one worker said in the survey, according to the West Australian.
The SDA has responded with a campaign called "Don't Bag Retail Staff," including a video in which a customer angrily demands to know why he can't get a free plastic bag, and a fish and turtle shopping behind him say, "Uh, I think you know why, mate."
Following the backlash, Woolworths announced that it would give the reusable bags away for free until July 8.
"They just want a little extra help from us to get through the transition," Woolworths Managing Director Claire Peters said in a statement, according to BBC News.
In response to the tension at Woolworths, Coles said it would open every checkout Sunday and have extra staff members on hand to help ease the transition.
"We are taking a proactive step," a Coles spokesperson said.
Despite the vocal minority of complainers, a statement on Woolworths' website says that three-quarters of its customers support the change.
"This is a landmark day for us not just as a business, but for our customers and communities, to help support a greener future for Australia. We are proud to say that from now on, single-use plastic bags are gone from our stores, for good," Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci said in the June 20 statement.
Since Tasmania and South Australia previously banned single-use plastic bags, there are now only two Australian states that do not fine retailers for offering single-use plastic bags, according to NPR.
These states join the around 40 countries that have instituted bans on plastic bags, including Bangladesh, China and 15 countries in Africa, BBC News reported.
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By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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