Australia must halve its use of high density polyethylene bags by the end of 2004 and substantially increase recycling or risk facing a levy on plastic bag use, said David Kemp, Australia's federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage.
Following recommendations released Dec. 23 from the National Plastic Bags Working Group, Kemp and state and territory environment ministers have challenged retailers to meet 50 percent recycling and reduction targets for lightweight plastic bags during the next two years. The working group was created in October to develop measures to reduce the estimated 6 billion plastic bags used annually by Australians.
Kemp wants to cut plastic bag litter by 75 percent by the end of 2004, which, based on today's numbers, would be a cut of at least 38 million bags, he said. The ministers also seek a 90 percent participation rate by retail chains and a 25 percent participation rate by small retailers in a voluntary National Code of Practice for the Management of Plastic Retail Carry Bags.
Progress on the targets will be reviewed throughout 2003 and governments will develop legislative options to reduce plastic bag use, including a levy, in the next six months.
The working group's recommendations, made through the National Packaging Covenant Council, cover four areas: littering behavior, resource efficiency, degradability issues, and community education and awareness. Recommendations include developing markets for reprocessed resin, particularly using recycled resin in plastic bag production.
Kemp and the state and territory environment ministers have agreed to:
* Provide A$60,000 (US$34,400) to research the market and environmental potential of degradable bags, in particular the impact on recycling, manufacturing and landfills.
* Develop a national standard for degradable plastics.
* Develop a strong national code of practice for retailers.
* Commission the National Packaging Covenant Council to coordinate a national plastic bag education program and improve recycling.
* Develop a community-based system of monitoring marine litter.
Kemp said Australia's recycling and waste management is ``way ahead'' of Ireland, which last year introduced a levy on plastic bags.
``Australia has a much higher level of environmental awareness,'' he said. ``We recycle 72 percent of our newsprint, 65 percent of our aluminum, nearly half our glass and 16 percent of our plastic. More than 85 percent of us have access to curbside recycling.
``In contrast, the Irish only recycle about 12 percent of their newsprint, 16 percent of aluminum, just under a third of their glass and only 3 percent of plastic.
``Australians respond well to recycling when they have the facilities to do it, which is why voluntary initiatives are likely to be much more successful here than in some other countries.''
The ministers' proposals are supported by Australia's key industry association, the Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association in Richmond.
Peter Bury, PACIA plastics development manager, said the proposed measures recognize the utility of plastic bags while potentially reducing their impact on the environment.