Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

July 13th 2009
Change comes in a bag

Brian Page with the bin and a bag How often have you visited the supermarket but forgot to bring your environmentally-friendly, reusable shopping bag? You were coming home from work and just dropped in for some essential tid-bits and, before you know it, you are walking out the door with another plastic shopping bag - the type the world's ocean's are choking on, that kill turtles and filled the stomach and killed poor old Whitey the croc, captured on Magnetic Island not so long ago. Well, now, it looks like change is afoot.

The Foodworks Community Supermarket at Nelly Bay, last week, introduced a new approach to recycled bag shopping and other Island businesses are changing their ways too.

Foodworks' Proprietor, Brian Page, has placed, outside the shop's door, a large tropically painted, wheely bin, which, instead of receiving rubbish, provides Islanders with an opportunity to pick up a re-useable shopping bag and return it, along with their other spares, at a later date.

Brian told Magnetic Times, “My customers were telling me to get rid of them (plastic shopping bags) and on the Island the green side is quite heavy. They'd ask 'why not be the first?” and I thought, why not! I can do this. There's far too much plastic going into the water.”

And while Brian is excited about his initiative the idea has been trialled, in a different form, at Butler's Pantry in Arcadia about 18 months ago. They gave away about 150 of the reusable bags and are encouraging customers to use them while charging 5 cents for their plastic bags which are now biodegradable.

“It would be great to see the school fete as a dropping-off point for the reusable bags,” said Butler's Julie Carmody who worked in the recycling industry for seven years.

Julie would like to see all shops which use plastic bags to stop. “If we all agree 100 per cent then definitely that's the way to go.”

The Magnetic Island State School Fete (Saturday 22 August) may well play a pivotal role in changing Magnetic Island residents' behaviour. Brian Page is donating 500 reusable bags to help his customers towards better shopping habits, which will be for sale at $1 each with proceeds to the school.

Brian sees the customer education process as ongoing. He's focussing on getting locals into the habit of bringing their spare reusable bags. Staff will be asking locals, “Do you have your reusable bag?” and, if not, they are made aware of the bag bin outside the front door from which they can take a free bag. Then they are asked to bring as many back as possible for the bin next time.

From today, Brian will also be adding a 5 cent charge onto all the plastic bags used. He believes that when freight and space is factored into the price, each plastic bag presently costs him about 10 cents each.

“It's a matter of getting people into the habit,” says Brian who is also very impressed that one of his staff, Doug Beale, was able to paint a tropical beach scene onto the wheely bin provided to the shop by Townsville City Council with help from Island representative, Trevor Roberts.

As for reactions so far, Brain says, “locals think it's wonderful. They don't have to remember every day to bring their environmental bags every time.”

The idea is clearly being considered in many stores. Dale Brooker from Nelly Bay Fish 'n' Fuel told Magnetic Times, “Brian has a really good approach. At first I think it will go down the barrel but people will get trained.”

Dale is also keen to go plastic bag free and is looking to find an alternative to plastic bait bags in particular. He is worried at the number of fishers' plastic bags which presently blow off the Picnic Bay Jetty.

Interestingly, when a documentary screened on TV last year, about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: a 100 million tonne plus, vortex of swirling, mostly plastic, rubbish which floats in a North Pacific ocean area over twice the size of Texas, Brian noticed a drop in the number of bags being taken up by customers at the shop drop by 4500 per week. “And that's held up well with locals since,” he said.

The problem of keeping the reusable bags clean is another factor being considered. Julie Carmody said, “With so much fresh produce, contamination is a problem, so we have to check bag's contents.”

Mr Armi Bhela, Manager from Magnetic Harbour IGA, is less optimistic about the reusable bag approach. “We tried recycle bags and gave away 10,000 over the last couple of years. I don't know where they are going. We are lucky to see 10 percent of our customers coming back with them.

According to Armi, IGA are presently moving towards the adoption of a recycled paper bag which he expects will be adopted by IGA stores nationwide.

Horseshoe Bay Foodworks as proprietor, Zara Frost was unavailable for comment.

Story & photo: George Hirst

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

Change comes in a bag
Wendy Tubman
July 12th 2009
Good one Brian! And thanks too to all the other shopkeepers working to minimize the damage to our wonderful environment from plastic bags.

May I suggest that resorts - especially, but not only, backpackers - have a similar system at 'their' end, so that shoppers can take a bag down with them when they go to the shops and drop it at the accommodation house when they leave the island (rather than make a special trip to return the bag). X-base would be in a good position to back up Brian on this as most of their clients seem to use Foodworks and most of them use plastic bags.
Dani C
July 13th 2009
This is really great news and a sign of real progress towards a more sustainable community. Around Australia, at least 77 species of marine wildlife - including turtles - are affected by different types of plastic garbage, plastic bags included. Good to see that people are interested in making a difference - well done guys!
Chris Copping
July 13th 2009
Some of us still need plastic bags.

At least one a day for the dog’s affairs to be tidied up- and the odd one to stick prawn shells etc in ( and store in the freezer till rubbish day)

But gosh we could pay for these ourselves.

Lea M. Scherl
July 13th 2009
Fantastic initiative from the shops adopting such measures. I love the painted bin with the sign "this is not a rubbish bin" outside Foodworks. Hopefully every shop can adopt such an initiave and considered a painted bin outside it. We could even try to promote a competition for the most innovative painted bin? (would Council sponsor this?). Efforts are also in place now for more recycling at the RSL markets, which is great.
Island Palms Resort
July 14th 2009
Terrific idea, Brian & Leanne. We, at Island Palms Resort, are now going to expand on your idea! With near 100% of our guests staying a minimum one week, they do a sizable shop at Nelly Bay Foodworks. For over a year we have supplied some of our apartments with (TCC supplied) reusable shopping bags and always have 2-3 in our 3 hire vehicles. We are now going to place a receptacle at the bottom of each apartment block stairwell, with a sign encouraging guests to grab a bag when they head to the shops.
Kelly G.
July 16th 2009
Dale makes a very good point. I have witnessed these plastic bags blowing away from people fishering in areas around Nelly Bay. Its this sort of plastic that regularly kills our local marine life. But what to do, what else could the bait come in but plastic? How about this... put the cost of bait up by a dollar. Tell the customers that the bait packet is returnable. If they bring it back they get a dollar back. Doesn't anyone remember the days when you could get ten cents back if you returned your soft drink bottle? Well, this is an immediate solution, make the bait packet returnable and the punters won't let it blow into the ocean. Just a suggestion. :)

What do you think? Send us your comments.

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