One of Australia's most popular tourist spots has become the first town in the nation to ban polyethylene bags at all its retail outlets.
Coles Bay, a seaside town adjoining Freycinet National Park in eastern Tasmania, is a favored tourist destination, particularly during the annual whale migration season. The town's retailers have implemented the ban to reduce plastic bag litter, which whales and turtles can mistake for food.
Environmental group Planet Ark has been working with the town's residents to enact the plan, which includes distributing cotton bags to residents for free. Local retailers also sell paper and cloth bags.
Jon Dee, Planet Ark chief executive officer, said residents adopted the plan quickly, but the reaction from tourists has surprised him.
``They are not only buying reusable bags for themselves, they are taking them home for friends and families. Some are buying 10-15 bags each,'' said Dee, noting that some 180,000 tourists a year visit the town.
Planet Ark has received responses from 20 towns that are keen to ban PE bags and currently is developing an information kit on the Coles Bay model to send to all municipal governments in Australia. Dee expects ``a couple of hundred'' towns, both coastal and inland, to opt to be plastic-bag-free.
Planet Ark supports the use of biodegradable plastic bags and is pushing the Australian government to introduce standards on biodegradable plastic.
The Australian government has introduced a national campaign to reduce plastic bag litter by 75 percent and achieve a 50 percent rate of recycling and a 50 percent reduction in plastic bag use by the end of 2004. Australians use an estimated 7 billion plastic checkout bags a year.