Vic gov set date of bag plastic bag ban for 2019

The Victorian Government has announced it will ban single-use, lightweight plastic shopping bags from late 2019 to fight plastic pollution.

The ban will come into effect from late next year and will include all plastic shopping bags less than 35 microns in thickness. It also includes shopping bags made from biodegradable and compostable plastic.

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It follows a public consultation which received more than 8000 submissions, with more than 96 per cent supporting a ban.

The Victorian Government said it will use feedback over the next 12 months to develop a plastic pollution plan to reduce other types of plastic contaminants in the environment.

A reference group will also be established to help develop the plan, with representatives from the government, industry, retailers and community environment groups.

The state government also announced it will support an education campaign for both retailers and the community to ensure the ban is effective.

It also said a transition period will be required to help consumers and businesses adapt to the changes alongside co-operation with other states and territories on a national, voluntary phase-out of thick plastic bags.

Victorian Minister for Environment Lily D’Ambrosio said banning single-use plastic bags will slash waste, reduce litter and help protect marine life in Victoria’s waters.

“We know Victorians want to do more to reduce pollution in our environment – we’ve received an enormous amount of feedback and they’ve told us loud and clear they want us to deliver this ban,” she said.

“The Government will continue to work closely with Victorian communities and businesses to design the ban – to ensure it works for all Victorians and our environment.”

ACOR calls for more recycled packaging after plastic bag ban

The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) has called on large Australian brands to commit to using recycled content in their packaging as Coles and Woolworths phase out single-use plastic bags.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said the move to stop supplying plastic bags in supermarkets is a good step, but a bigger move for the environment and economy is ensuring recycled content material is used for packaging.

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“Giving consumers a chance to buy recycled content products has more benefits than bag bans, and survey work shows more than 80 per cent of Aussies support such a move. Ministers can do more to encourage recycled content in packaging at their next discussion about the China crisis,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Putting recycled content into Australian packaging creates domestic demand for collected material and that drives investment and jobs in remanufacturing into new products, and lower risk for Councils’ kerbside recycling collections.”

“At present, Coles appears to have a voluntary target of 5 per cent of products sold having recycled content. It’s unclear what Woolworths’ target is.”

Mr Shmigel said it would be great if both companies announced what their targets are for recycled content going into the future.

“Without recycled content and other measures to make recycling sustainable, we are ‘pushing’ material out and not ‘pulling’ it through. It just shifts more costs to local governments for recycling services. If we can’t get progress through voluntary measures, the community is right to expect regulation to get it done, as is the case in Europe,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Coca-Cola is showing what can be done. Mount Franklin water bottles are all made with recycled content plastic, and they are looking at switching 50% of all their bottles to recycled content,” he said.

New report urges caution for biodegradable bags

A new report from Europe has found issues with testing on biodegradable plastic bags and urges caution when considering whether they should be exempt from plastic bag bans and levies.

Jesse Harrison and co-authors argue in the report that existing industry standards and test methods are insufficient when it comes to predicting how biodegradable plastic bags break down in lakes, rivers and marine environments.

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The Biodegradability standards for carrier bags and plastic films in aquatic environments report was commissioned by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and involved the University of Edinburgh, the University of Vienna, and the University of Helsinki.

said the data obtained by current standards, test methods and specifications can significantly underestimate how long it takes for polymer biodegradation in natural ecosystems.

“Existing biodegradability standards and test methods for aquatic environments do not involve toxicity testing or account for potentially adverse ecological impacts of carrier bags, plastic additives, polymer degradation products or small plastic particles that arise via fragmentation,” the report said.

Auckland University of Technology Professor Thomas Neitzert said this research helps destroy the current thinking a plastic bag with a biodegradable label is safe for the environment.

“The co-existence of conventional plastic bags and so-called biodegradable plastic bags of compostable materials is also upsetting current recycling operations and is confusing the general public,” Dr Neitzert said.

“The current standards are not taking properly into account real-life conditions and are therefore underestimating the break-down times of plastic materials.

“The standards are also not accounting for the damage of break-down particles on marine life when they are digested. A biodegradable plastic bag is potentially dangerous to marine life from the moment it enters the water until it dissolves into micro- or nanoparticles over many years,” he said.

University of Waikato Professor Kim Pickering said the review provided an excellent overview of the current assessment of biodegradability, including its shortfalls.

“It is important to assess how long things take to degrade in real situations and also what they break into and the consequences of that and we need to address such shortfalls,” Dr Pickering said.

“If it is to be assumed that we cannot prevent some plastic products getting into the environment, then biodegradable plastics could be a step in the right direction (depending on the product),” she said.

“It shows that there are great uncertainties regarding the impact these could have on the environment and so we should still assume responsibility of waste and consider its disposal, whether biodegradable or not.”

Australian student’s prawn shell plastic goes global

An Australian student’s bioplastic innovation has gone global and will be representing Australia at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

Angelina Arora started investigating bioplastics when she 15 after she was inspired by being asked to pay for a plastic bag at a shop. It prompted her to think of a way people could still have the convenience of plastic without the harmful environmental effects.

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She will represent Australia alongside over 1,800 high school students from 75 countries, regions, and territories in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

After she became a finalist in the 2017 BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering awards for her research into the commercial viability of bioplastics, she began to work closely with a CSIRO mentor to develop a completely biodegradable plastic made from prawn shell and sticky protein from silkworm silk.

“I’m driven by wanting to help – whether it’s people, the environment or animals. It was amazing after months of research that I found a plastic that was suitable,” Ms Arora said.

“I was always a curious child asking why things work and this developed into a love of science. I believe science is the key to all the worlds’ mysteries.

“I couldn’t imagine a future where it isn’t part of my life. I think I’d like to go into medicine as it is all about helping people,” she said.

CSIRO Education and Outreach Director Mary Mulcahy said showcasing Australia’s brilliant science, technology, engineering and mathematics projects on the world stage was a key part in enabling Australia to adapt for a rapidly changing future.

“The world is changing faster than many of us can keep up with, but science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) can guide that future through innovation,” Ms Mulcahy said.

“These students are showing on a world stage that Australian students are prepared more than ever for the future.”

Pictured: Angelina Arora. Source: CSIRO

No more plastic bags from Woolworths

Supermarket giant Woolworths has announced its supermarkets will no longer provide shoppers with single-use plastic bags from 20 June 2018.

The move also effects its BWS, Metro and Woolworths Petrol stores, where group wide more than 3.2 billion plastic bags are handed out each year.

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Woolworths Group stated last year that it would end the use of plastic bags by the end of June 2018 in states where there had not been a ban implemented yet.

Woolworths Group Chief Executive Officer Brad Banducci said the company feels strongly that this is the right thing to do.

“Our teams have been working hard behind the scenes to accelerate the rollout of this plan so we can start making a positive impact on the environment as quickly as possible,” Mr Banducci said.

“We know this is a big change for our customers and store teams, and we need to do all we can to make the transition as seamless as possible for both.

“To this end, we have a dozen supermarkets across Australia going single-use plastic bag free from today. We’ll closely monitor feedback from customers in these stores and apply any lessons we learn to our national rollout on 20 June.”

The 12 Woolworths stores phasing out plastic bags from today are:

  • NSW – Woolworths Marayong, Greenway Village, Dural, Mullumbimby
  • VIC – Woolworths Wyndham Vale, Taylors Lakes, Toorak
  • QLD – Woolworths Mossman, Noosa Civic
  • WA – Woolworths Singleton, South Fremantle, Cottesloe

Planet Ark Chief Executive Officer Paul Klymenko said this is a welcome move by Woolworths that will have a positive effect on the environment.

“Single-use plastic bags have become a huge problem for Australia’s oceans and waterways where they cause significant harm to turtles, whales and fish. They also don’t breakdown in landfill and require significant resources to manufacture in the first place,” Mr Klymenko said.

“Experiences in countries like the UK and Ireland have shown the introduction of small charges on plastic bags can end up reducing plastic bag usage by up to 85 percent as shoppers embrace reusable alternatives, and we have every confidence this can happen in Australia too,” he said.

Boomerang Alliance Director Jeff Angel said the community wants action on the alarming growth of plastic pollution.

“It is gratifying to see retailers like Woolworths moving on plastic bags to help save our oceans and wildlife, with international scientific consensus putting bags in the top three dangers of ingestion and entanglement of marine life,” Mr Angel said.

“We encourage shoppers to adopt reusable bags. Of course, there’s much more to do in stores to reduce our plastic footprint and we look forward to working with consumers, retailers and government to push the agenda along,” he said.

Woolworths has also said it aims to offer flexible plastic recycling options in all supermarkets via the REDcycle program. REDcycle allows customers to return soft plastic packaging used for produce, frozen food, confectionary packets and shopping bags that are then sent to recycling partners. The material collected are then turned into products like outdoor furniture.