When Australia's environment minister, Peter Garrett, could not get state governments to agree on eliminating high density polyethylene shopping bags, South Australia decided to go it alone.
In late June, South Australia's environment and conservation minister, Gail Gago, introduced state legislation that would require retailers to offer alternatives to plastic bags beginning Jan. 1, and prohibit them from providing HDPE bags effective May 4.
Richard Evans, executive director of the Sydney-based Australian Retailers Association, said the proposed ban is ``poor politics from simple politicians seeking simple solutions.''
The federal government estimates that Australians use 4 billion bags each year. Environmental groups claim many bags end up in landfills or as litter in sensitive land and marine areas.
But Evans said HDPE bags represent a ``negligible'' 2 percent of landfill waste in Australia and research into their effects on marine life is ``misleading.''
Retailers' bag costs would increase with a ban, as they would be forced to use alternative materials such as paper and cloth, and those costs would be passed on to consumers, Evans said. Also, the legislation is unclear about sanctions or penalties if retailers break the rules, he added.
``What happens if a small retailer offers a plastic bag to an old woman to carry her food home because she has nothing else to carry it with? Will the [store] owner be fined? Will they go to jail?''
The solution is to change consumer behavior through education campaigns and improved litter management, he said.
The Melbourne-based Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association refuses to comment until it sees the effects of a 10 cent ``test levy'' on HDPE bags in the state of Victoria, a spokesperson said.
If the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission approves, the Victorian government will test the levy in August at three food supermarkets to see whether consumers will pay 10 cents more for HDPE bags if they are given an option of alternative bags.