Australians Give Up Plastic Carry Bags

CANBERRA, Australia, March 14, 2005 (ENS) - Australians are trying to stop using so many plastic carry bags, and according to two reports issued by Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell Saturday, they are succeeding. The plastic bags litter the landscape, block drains and creeks, and injure wildlife on land and at sea.

The two new reports, one from sustainability consultants Nolan ITU, commissioned by the Department of the Environment and Heritage in December 2004, and the other from the Australian Retailers Association, both indicate the number of bags issued has fallen.

Overall, Australians have reduced bag use by around 21 percent since 2002, the reports show.

"Supermarkets are leading the way and I challenge others, particularly small retailers and the clothing and department store sectors, to follow their lead," Campbell said.


Disposable plastic bags can be harmful to wildlife. (Photo courtesy Reuseable
"In 2002, we used an estimated six billion lightweight carry plastic bags," he said. "That's a phenomenal amount of waste, which is not only an eyesore but potentially lethal to some of our wildlife."

The new survey by Nolan ITU estimates that 4.77 billion lightweight plastic carry bags - or 613 per household - were used during 2004 compared with 5.95 billion in 2002.

Senator Campbell said more work needs to be done with the non-supermarket retailers which have only reduced bag use by between 10 and 15 percent.

"The good news is, according to the Nolan ITU report, supermarkets have managed to reduce their use of lightweight plastic bags by 25 percent. This is consistent with retailers' findings that major supermarkets have recorded similar impressive decrease of 26.9 percent," the minister said.

"Even though usage is still high, I congratulate supermarkets and consumers alike in their clear commitment to reducing their use of plastic bags," Campbell said.

The Australian Retailers Association is implementing the voluntary Code of Practice Target for the Management of Plastic Bags. Agreed in 2003, the Code aims to reduce plastic bag use by 50 percent by the end of 2005.

If the targets are not achieved, Australian Retailers Association says "it is highly likely that a ban or tax of 25 cents per plastic bag will be applied."

A tax would cost consumers millions of dollars and cause serious administrative and operational inefficiencies for retailers, the Association warns.

Already 90 percent of supermarkets have committed to the Code, but much wider participation is essential from all types of business that issue bags," said Stan Moore, chief executive of the Australian Retailers Association.

"Bag-issuing businesses need to work in strong partnership to achieve the targets fast food outlets, liquor stores, pharmacies, newsagents and all other types of business that issue these types of bags need to get involved."


Many Australian shoppers are reaching for reusable cloth bags in preference to plastic. (Photo courtesy Reuseable
The Say No to Plastic Bags campaign, run by Clean Up Australia in partnership with retailers and government, aims to encourage the community to change its behavior to reduce bags and increase recycling.

Clean Up Australia suggests that retailers offer alternatives for sale in-store, such as cloth bags, polypropylene bags, recycled paper or string bags, baskets or boxes as an option for shoppers. Biodegradable bags made out of cornstarch are a good option for some stores, the organization recommends.

One of the main aims of the Clean Up Australia campaign this year is to increase participation by non-supermarket and smaller retailers such as convenience stores, gas stations, convenience stores, news agents and pharmacies. Single-use plastic bags from these outlets now account for over half of all plastic bags, the group says.

A comprehensive kit has been designed to help any retailer - large or small - to start reducing plastic bag use and increase recycling. The kit, which costs retailers A$45, contains a guide on how to refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle, staff training materials and in-store promotional items to generate action.

Senator Campbell will convene a second roundtable with supermarkets and non-supermarket retailers on March 22 to explore ways to meet the target.