With the hotly debated plastic bag ban fast approaching, Countdown supermarkets across New Zealand are reporting a sharp rise in thefts at the checkouts.
This week, the supermarket giant announced their plans to implement a mass cull of the shopping staple within a fortnight, across sixty-seven stores, with the Final Countdown ending on October 8.
All South Island branches as well as a handful in the North Island will no longer supply plastic bags after this date.
However, immediately after the announcement went live, supermarket staff across many branches began to notice they were going through more plastic bags than usual, particularly at the self-checkout kiosks.
We spoke to regional manager for Canterbury, Selma Weirs.
“Usually most branches replace the plastic bag stocks two or three times a day, depending on how busy they are.”
“But suddenly they were running out within an hour or less of restocking the kiosks, and even the checkout staff were reporting they seemed to be running out more quickly than normal.”
A review of security camera footage covering the checkout areas in the affected supermarkets soon showed the extent of the problem.
Customers were mainly targeting the self-checkouts, likely due to them being busier and more difficult to monitor, with only one or two staff usually being on hand in these sections to assist shoppers, said Ms. Weirs.
“Customers would scan and bag their purchases as usual and it all looked very ordinary.” she explained.
“We only noticed once we reviewed security footage that some of those customers were taking additional plastic bags from the hangers and layering them in between items, or wrapping other items up in an extra plastic bag.”
“Some more daring customers even went as far as grabbing a handful off the hangers and just cramming them in alongside their purchases.”
Closer review of the security footage revealed that a few dedicated plastic bag enthusiasts were even returning several times over the course of the day to take even more.
Communication between branches confirmed that the thefts were not isolated incidents restricted to only a few stores, but were affecting branches nationwide, leading to a concern that some may run out of their supplies before the October 8 cutoff date.
When asked what she thought people were planning to do with the extra bags they took, Selma Weirs theorised that most would hoard the items but also acknowledged some opportunists may try to sell them on social media or other sites, such as Trade Me.
“Whenever we run promotions with limited edition items, we have problems with people buying in bulk so they can on-sell them, or selling free promotional items earned alongside purchases for an inflated price.” admitted Ms. Weirs.
“It stands to reason that some of the stolen plastic bags will be on-sold to people who feel they have a need for them.”
When asked if the supermarket chain intends to involve the police in the matter, she said she had spoken with other regional managers and they had decided to take no action, believing it would be counter-intuitive.
The removal of plastic bags on October 8 will go ahead as planned.