The states have moved to ban singe-use plastic bags from retail outlets, but just how effective is the blanket ban on keeping plastic bags out of the waste stream?
Lightweight, single-use plastic shopping bags will be banned in Western Australia from July 1 next year.
The statewide ban will bring Western Australia into line with South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory which already have plastic bag bans in place. Queensland has also vowed to ban the bag from July 1, 2018.
Plastic bags make up a relatively small portion of solid waste and litter but can significantly harm marine wildlife and birds which can inadvertently eat or become entangled in plastic bag waste.
The WA government said its plastic bag ban has garnered widespread support across the local government sector in recent months and among major retailers which are some of the biggest suppliers of plastic shopping bags.
Major supermarkets Coles, Woolworths and IGA have indicated their intention to ban single-use plastic bags while some WA retailers – including Aldi and Bunnings – already support the ban by not offering single-use plastic bags to their customers.
“The community and the retail industry have already been working to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic bags for more than a decade,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.
“The number of plastic bags used every year continues to grow and therefore it’s time for the State Government to act, in the absence of a national approach.
“There are alternatives to single-use plastics and we need to move beyond single-use items and promote sustainable futures for our children.”
“We will continue our efforts to reduce the amount of waste generated, prevent littering, increase material recovered from the waste stream, and reduce waste destined for landfill,” said Environment Minister Stephen Dawson.
Channel Ten’s The Project is leading a campaign with Clean Up Australia to ban plastic bags in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
On Wednesday night’s show, written by host Waleed Aly and The Project‘s managing editor Tom Whitty, state premiers were urged to have the courage to ban the bags to save the environment.
Aly challenged NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, and WA Premier Mark McGowan to step up.
“A Senate Inquiry into marine plastic pollution from last year recommended the federal government support the states to ban plastic bags,” Aly said.
“Unless we give them a push, nothing will change, and you and I will keep using plastic bags. But we can change this. You can change this. So now’s the time to be heard.”
Clean Up Australia has endorsed the push.
If the states agree, it would result in a nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags, with South Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and the ACT having already banned them, while Queensland plans to ban them from next year.
Viewers were urged to sign a Change.org petition to show their support for a ban, as well as writing to each state premier. The petition received almost 6000 signatures in half an hour.
Aly said each plastic bag is used for 12 minutes on average – then up to 6 billion each year are thrown into landfill across Australia, taking hundreds of years to break down.
Terrie-Ann Johnson, managing director of Clean Up Australia, said people don’t really think about the environmental impact of plastic bags.
“It’s really frustrating because these things are having an enormous impact on the environment. They’re killing our precious wildlife. We don’t need plastic bags,” she told The Project.
“Let’s put aside landfill for a minute and think about the 80 million plastic bags that end up in our litter stream. Think about the poor animal in the marine environment that chokes or it starves because it’s got a gutful of non-nutritious material. It’s a horrible, horrible death.
“Internationally, Australia is really lagging behind the rest of the world.”
Federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg told The Project he supported all states introducing a ban, while supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths said they would comply with such a ban.