Northern Territory environmental groups have claimed the State Government’s legislation banning plastic bags has failed in its intent to reduce unwanted litter.
The Northern Territory Government introduced laws prohibiting single-use plastic bags less than 35 microns in thickness in September 2011.
Heimo Schober, chief executive of the Keep Australia Beautiful Council NT, told ABC Radio Darwin that litter surveys had revealed plastic bag litter had increased in the past five years.
He said while surveys showed most plastic bag litter was found on roadsides and in car parks, they were unable to determine who was ditching them.
“Whether the bags are just being thrown on the ground or they’re being removed from bins and landfill by animals or wind, we’re not sure.
“It’s education that we need; we need people to be aware that a 15-minute use of a plastic bag that then lasts 10 years above ground, maybe thousands of years below ground, is just unacceptable.”
Glen Evans, project manager at the NT Environment Centre, told ABC News he had no reason to doubt the findings of Keep Australia Beautiful’s litter surveys.
But he said a lack of independent data both before and after the ban was implemented made it difficult to assess its efficacy.
“Personally, when I go into supermarkets I’ve definitely noticed an increase in the trend of people using reusable plastic bags,” he said.
“Initially the impact was that people didn’t want to pay [for reusable bags], but over time their behaviour has changed.”
Mr Evans agreed with Mr Schober’s stance that it was society’s attitude towards plastic bags that needed to change, rather than legislation.
“It’s not just thinking about recycling a product but looking at other ways we can minimise the amount of plastic bags that are being used.”
Lauren Moss, the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, told ABC News a 2014 review of the ban showed it had reduced the number of bags being sold or given away by more than 10 million units.
A statement from the NT Environment Protection Authority said the review also found shoppers more frequently reused plastic bags and were “generally supportive of the ban”.
While Ms Moss did not comment on any future reviews of the ban, she admitted Queensland’s scheduled ban on plastic bags in 2018 would be a good opportunity to reflect on how it was working in the NT.
“Legislation is only one part of this. I think the community education and making sure we are really encouraging people to use those [reusable] bags more is really important,” she said.