A ban on retailers using high density polyethylene bags may be the only way Australia can reduce plastic bag use, according to a federally funded report by environmental group Planet Ark.
One Australian state, South Australia, has introduced a law to ban HDPE shopping bags by 2008.
An advertising campaign by government, industry and environmental groups to reduce use of single-use bags, provided free by retailers, has not been as successful in the nonsupermarket retail sector as it had with major supermarket chains, the report said.
Australian supermarkets had reduced use of HDPE bags 27 percent in the past 12 months from an estimated 7 billion units. However, a survey of 129 nonsupermarket retailers, detailed in the report, found that the sector reduced use only 10-15 percent. Nonsupermarket retailers now supply 55 percent of all free plastic bags.
One national hardware chain reduced HDPE bag use by 21 million units, a 73 percent reduction, by selling reusable bags and charging 10 cents each for plastic bags. The money was donated to charity.
The Australian Retailers' Association, which represents more than 10,000 retailers, and the Environment Protection & Heritage Council, a federal agency, want to halve use of HDPE bags by the end of 2005, with a total phaseout by 2008.
The Planet Ark report said major supermarket chains have reduced HDPE bag use rapidly and relatively easily because the stores are company-owned and have centralized policies. Most Australian supermarkets now sell reusable cloth shopping bags. The report said supermarkets are ``destination'' shops, making it easier to promote reusable bags.
On the other hand, impulse buying is common at the country's 200,000 nonsupermarket outlets, so shoppers are not as likely to bring reusable bags.
Cost, habit and convenience were the main reasons nonsupermarket retailers continue to use HDPE bags, although 60 percent of those surveyed said they train staff to ask customers whether they want a plastic bag for their purchases.
The Planet Ark report also recommends that ARA look next at low density PE shopping bags. LDPE bags are favored by clothing retailers and department stores, and Australian retailers use 900 million a year.