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Half of Australia’s territories, states now ban thin HDPE bags

By: Kate Tilley

June 27, 2013

Half of Australia’s states and territories have now banned single-use, lightweight plastic bags.

The island state of Tasmania passed legislation banning bags May 29. South Australia was the country’s first state to ban HDPE bags, in May 2009; the Northern Territory followed in September 2011; and the Australian Capital Territory in November 2011.

While they are Australia’s least-populated states and territories, there is pressure on New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia’s governments to follow suit.

After Nov. 1, Tasmanian retailers can no longer give shoppers non-biodegradable, lightweight HDPE shopping bags less than 35 microns thick. The move follows all three major political parties in Tasmania supporting a bag ban in 2010.

Still permitted under the legislation are compostable bio¬degradable bags, heavier plastic bags (typically used by clothing and department stores) and barrier film bags used for fruit, vegetables, meat and other perishables.

Sydney-based action group DoSomething! started campaigning for a statewide ban in Tasmania 10 years ago after the Tasmanian coastal town of Coles Bay became Australia’s first town to phase out plastic bag use in April 2003.

DoSomething! founder and Managing Director Jon Dee estimates Coles Bay has reduced plastic bag use by two million bags in the last decade.

He said Australia is “heading in the right direction” toward a national ban, and the group is talking with another state about potentially introducing a ban, but he would not say which state.

Despite bans in the five states and territories, Dee estimates Australians have used at least 50 billion plastic checkout bags since 2002.

Until a national ban is introduced, Dee wants Australia’s three major supermarket chains — Melbourne-based Coles Ltd., Sydney-based Woolworths Ltd. and Independent Grocers of Australia — to disclose how many plastic bags they have given to customers in the last five years.

Dee said an industry whistleblower told him supermarkets have “misled” governments by understating their plastic bag use by “billions.” He said the information is readily available because supermarkets tender annually for bag supplies.

Spokesmen for the three chains did not respond to Plastics News’ questions on the matter.

Dee praised the approach taken by national retailer Target Australia Pty. Ltd., based in Geelong, Victoria. Target has banned non-biodegradable plastic checkout bags in all its more than 300 stores nationwide, so customers must bring their own bags or buy degradable bags in stores, with funds going to charities.

“The way [Target] banned plastic bags should be introduced on a national basis,” Dee said.

Alternatively, he suggested Australia adopt the Republic of Ireland’s model, which he claims is a “demonstrable success.”

In 2002, Ireland introduced a national levy on plastic bags. Ireland’s Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government said plastic bag consumption dropped more than 90 percent once the levy was introduced.

A February report to SA’s parliament found that state’s lightweight, single-use plastic bag ban is effective in reducing use and changing consumer behavior.

The Plastic Bag Ban Empirical Study was commissioned by the government-run Zero Waste SA and conducted by the University of South Australia’s Ehrenberg Bass Institute for Marketing Science. It is based on 614 supermarket shoppers’ observations; exit interviews with 278 of the observed shoppers; 77 intercept interviews in a shopping mall setting; and in-depth interviews with 13 members of a task force dedicated to phasing out plastic bags.

It found 80 percent of people support the ban; twice as many households regularly take their own shopping bags than before the ban; and only 4 percent of households claim to never take their own bags. However, it found shoppers buying rubbish bin liners has increased from 15 percent to 80 percent.

Dee said although bin-liner sales have increased, overall, plastic bag use has decreased by at least 400 million since the South Australia ban was introduced. But he said the figures are based on supermarkets’ “misinformation,” so it is difficult to know exactly how many bags are sold.