Before Thirroul Newsagency introduced its plastic bag ban, the busy store was giving out nearly 2000 plastic bags a year.
Seeing the amount of plastic bags floating in the ocean on his regular surfing trips, store owner Rod Maher decided to take a stance, for the sake of the environment, and officially made his shop plastic-bag free.
Fast forward four years and customers have now generally embraced the ban, regularly bringing their own reusable bags to collect their daily newspapers.
Mr Maher believes the key to eliminating plastic bags is reprogramming the community's mindset.
"It's about going back to that time when we were kids and you would grab the string bag off the back of the door to go grocery shopping," he said.
"It's about education; people now come into our store with their own bags so it's just taken that adjustment."
Ban the Bag Illawarra, a new grass-roots movement, shares the same sentiment, convinced retraining people to think "green" is critical to abandoning the reliance on plastic bags.
The group, which has gathered nearly 80 members since it formed in April, is focused on prohibiting plastic bags. Organiser Carolyn Lee is keen for Wollongong to set the trend statewide but acknowledged NSW legislation preventing councils from applying bans or levies on plastic bags.
"We want to see this legislation changed," Ms Lee said.
"Other councils across the country have banned plastic bags so we'd like to see it in NSW.
"The lifespan of a single-use shopping bag is about five minutes but they can last thousands of years; plastic bags clog up waterways and our marine life mistake them for food, ingest them and die."
Retail giants Aldi, Bunnings and Target, along with a handful of Illawarra stores, have taken up the plastic bag ban, either forcing customers to use boxes or making them pay for biodegradable or calico bags.
Mr Maher believes other businesses are keen to follow suit but are worried about upsetting customers.
"I think a lot of businesses are concerned about turning customers away - the retail environment is so tough at the moment so they don't want to do anything to upset people.
"It shouldn't have to come to legislation to force people to get rid of plastic - it's something that can work but it's just about education," Mr Maher said.
Ban the Bag Illawarra's next meeting will be held on July 31.
For details, contact Carolyn Lee on 0416 372 962.
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