Our commitment to phasing out single-use plastic carrier bags

In October 2017, we were the first supermarket in New Zealand to announce we are phasing-out single use plastic carrier bags from our checkouts and online shopping service by the end of 2018. This will remove around 350 million plastic bags each year.

We're committed to making the change as easy as possible for our customers.  As a first step, our Countdown branded reusable bags are locked down to just $1 each, with more customer-focussed initiatives to follow this year.

Removing plastic bags is a big step, but it’s just one part of our overall aim to reduce plastic in our business.  In November we announced 20 corporate responsibility and sustainability commitments out to 2020. Removing plastic bags is a key part of Countdown's broader efforts on waste minimisation, which already includes the Countdown Food Rescue programme and our target towards zero food waste. 

Soft Plastics Recycling Programme

In 2015 Countdown was a founding member of the Soft Plastics Recycling Programme, an initiative to encourage customers to recycle soft plastics in specially marked bins. This soft plastic material includes products like the plastic shopping bags provided at our checkouts and packaging for frozen products and bakery items.

So far we have soft plastics recycling available in 130 of our 184 stores, including all our Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, and South Island stores.

Countdown online shoppers living in areas where the Soft Plastics Recycling scheme is in place (Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and South Island), can now also return their soft plastics to their delivery driver for recycling, instead of taking them into store.

Online Shopping Trial

The number of plastic bags our online shoppers receive with their groceries is a hot topic, and that’s why we’ve been trialling different ways to reduce plastic bags in this part of our business.

We’re currently trialling a Swap-A-Bag in select stores, however in the meantime our online customers are welcome to request a box for their groceries if they wish to.


Why are you getting rid of single-use plastic carrier bags?

  • Countdown has committed to phasing out single use plastic carrier bags from checkouts and online shopping by the end of 2018. Our customers use 350 million of these bags every year and we think it’s the right thing to do for our environment. 
  • Plastic bags are a hot topic and it’s a good first step, but this is just one part of our aim to reduce plastic in New Zealand.  We’re also looking at other plastic right across our business

What do sustainable alternatives look like?

  • Countdown is committed to making the change away from single use plastic carrier bags as easy as possible for customers, and new, affordable and sustainable options will be introduced over time. We’ll be trialling a number of initiatives over the course of this year and when we have the right mix of alternatives for customers, we will introduce these into our stores and online. 
  • As an example, on Waiheke, we have trialled compostable bags and have retailed them at 15 cents. With greater bulk ordering, we would see these prices come down.
  • We already have a popular reusable option in place, and we’re going to encourage more customers to bring their own bags, which is why we’ve started by putting the reusable bag on $1 Lockdown. You can expect to see more of this sort of thing.

What bags does this phase-out include?

  • Our intention is to phase-out single-use plastic carrier bags at the check-out, and in online shopping. While we recognise there are other plastic carrier bags in our stores, such as at produce in deli, these serve a purpose for food safety, and are more difficult to replace. However, as genuine alternatives become available, we will make changes here as well.

Will you be charging for single-use plastic carrier bags?

  • Charging for single-use plastic carrier bags is not the best outcome for the environment, because retailers will still be providing these bags. We also do not think it’s right to charge for these bags, even if it goes to charity.
  • Countdown already contributes $8 million annually in-cash and in-kind to community and environment initiatives.

Why is the phase-out taking more than 15 months?

  • The transition will take 15 months, as we talk to our customers about change, re-develop our check-outs and introduce better and cost effective alternatives.

What about bin liners?

  • Customers do currently give some plastic bags a second life. The biggest issue with single use plastic bags is when they escape from the waste-stream and make it into the wider environment, especially the ocean. By not providing single-use plastic bags, we reduce this possibility.
  • This announcement will be a change for our business and customers. However, it’s occurred overseas, where plastic bags have been banned. There are alternatives to plastic bags and we plan to help with that.

How does it work with online shopping?

  • The number of plastic bags online shopping customers receive with their groceries has been a hot topic   and it’s an important part of our aim to reduce the amount of plastic in New Zealand. 
  • We are currently trialling more sustainable options for our online shoppers at the moment. When we have this right, we will be introducing them nationally.
  • From 9 October, customers who live in areas where the Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme is in place, can now return their plastic bags to their online delivery drivers for recycling. The Soft Plastic Recycling programme is available in Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, and all South Island Countdown stores.

What about the Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme?

  • Since launch, Countdown customers have recycled more than 60 tonnes of soft plastic through this scheme.

  • The Soft Plastics Recycling scheme is available in Countdown stores in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington and all of the South Island.

  • From Monday 9 October, our online shoppers living in these areas, can now return their plastic bags for recycling.

  • The Soft Plastics Recycling scheme collects a wider array of soft plastic than single use plastic carrier bags.

  • Into the future this scheme remains an important part of the way this country can deal with soft plastics.