Two of Australia's state and territory governments will soon have laws banning single-use polyethylene shopping bags, while the nation's other jurisdictions continue talks about the issue they started eight years ago.
The Northern Territory government's new climate-change policy revealed plans for a statutory ban, although details are not yet available.
The policy, launched by Chief Minister Paul Henderson and Northern Territory Environment Minister Karl Hampton, said legislation implementing a ban on disposable high density PE bags will be introduced this year.
The move will bring the Northern Territory into line with South Australia, whose government in 2008 announced it would legislate for a ban. At that time, Australia's nine federal, state and territory environment ministers had not agreed on a proposed national approach to the issue.
The ministers, who regularly convene through the national Environment Protection and Heritage Council to coordinate policy approaches, started discussing a possible phaseout of HDPE bags at a 2002 meeting.
Subsequent EPHC gatherings have called for further details or studies, but are yet to result in a firm decision.
South Australia, with a population of 1.6 million, and the Northern Territory, with almost 250,000 residents, together have less than 10 percent of Australia's overall population of 22 million.
The federal government estimates Australians use about 4 billion HDPE shopping bags a year, most commonly to carry home groceries from supermarkets. About 40 million of those are estimated to be used in the Northern Territory and a further 400 million in South Australia.
The two relatively small jurisdictions have expressed frustration at the alleged procrastination of their counterparts. The South Australia government made it clear it was fed up with the delay when it announced plans for its own ban that took effect in May.
The state's Plastic Shopping Bags (Waste Avoidance) Act prohibits retailers from selling or giving away plastic carry bags less than 35 microns thick, although barrier bags, used for holding fruit and vegetables, meat or other perishables, are still allowed.
The law is backed by penalty provisions containing fines up to A$3,400 (US$3,100) for retailers that supply banned bags.
The Northern Territory government also has attributed its planned ban to frustration with the EPHC process.
We have been pushing for a national approach on plastic bags, a spokesman for Hampton said. But because there is not much action going on [through the EPHC], we thought we needed to bite the bullet and move ahead on our own.
The spokesman said details of the planned new law are not yet available, but the government proposes to draft and introduce legislation this year.
A phase-in period and final implementation dates are yet to be determined, he said.
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