The island state of Tasmania is likely to become Australia's second state to ban single-use polyethylene grocery bags.
In Australia, PE carry bags less than 35 microns thick are used widely in the retail sector. Most supermarkets give them to consumers at checkouts to carry groceries home.
The federal government estimates Australians use about 4 billion high density PE shopping bags a year.
Cassy O'Connor, a Tasmanian Greens member of parliament and the party's environment spokeswoman, introduced a motion in the Tasmanian parliament Nov. 10 to ban non-biodegradable HDPE bags and it was supported by both other political parties in Tasmania, the Labor Party and the National Liberal Party.
Tasmania Environment Minister David O'Byrne made a commitment to take O'Connor's proposal to the cabinet, a council of senior ministers responsible to the parliament.
He will have to convince the cabinet to proceed with a legislative proposal. If he achieves that, a draft bill will need majority support in both Tasmanian houses of parliament before it can become law.
South Australia became Australia's first state to ban HDPE bags in May 2009.
The Tasmanian seaside tourist town Coles Bay, which adjoins the popular Freycinet National Park in eastern Tasmania, led the nation by banning distribution of free HDPE shopping bags in April 2003.
South Australia's Plastic Shopping Bags (Waste Avoidance) Act prohibits retailers from selling or giving away plastic carry bags less than 35 microns thick, although bags used for fruit and vegetables, meat or other perishables, are still permitted.
The South Australian law is backed by fines of more than US$3,000 for retailers who supply banned bags.
O'Byrne said South Australia took about two years to bring its bag ban into full effect.
The South Australian experience has shown a transitional period and extensive education campaign were a key part of the success of the ban. It would require legislation to be developed and a phase-in time of six to 12 months to allow for an adequate public awareness campaign and for retailers to prepare, the minister said.
In 2002, Australia's Environment Protection & Heritage Council, a group of state, territory and federal environment ministers, made a commitment to phase-out HDPE bags nationally, but the move lost momentum and no firm resolution was made.
O'Connor said it is about time Tasmania has taken steps to ban bags that cause so much suffering among marine species and can be found littering Tasmanian roadsides, playgrounds and much of the coastline.
Environmentalists Ben Kearney and John Dee, founding directors of a community and environmental organization called Do Something! which was a major supporter of the bag ban in Coles Bay back the proposed statewide ban.
The Coles Bay ban reduced plastic bag use by 1.8 million bags [in six years]. When this statewide ban is introduced, it will result in significantly more bags being removed from circulation, Dee said.