Australia has not implemented a nation-wide ban on single-use plastic bags.
The Australian Capital Territory, The Northern Territory and South Australia have brought in a ban, but there is still no nation-wide policy to eliminate the bags from supermarkets and other retail outlets. This is despite continued calls for a ban from environmental organisations, individuals, community organisations and sections of the media.
Why is it necessary to eliminate the bags?
Surely it would be effective to just reduce the number of bags – isn’t elimination going too far?
Single-use plastic bags are created using fossils fuels and large amounts of water and their production creates solid waste. These bags never break down completely and can clog storm water drains which are cleared using government resources and, therefore, taxpayers’ money. It has also been suggested that the cost of supplying so many plastic bags to shoppers is passed onto consumers at the checkout.
Worse still, plastic bags choke and kill land and marine animals and have also been found to have been ingested into the bodies of marine animals; the very same seafood which is sold in supermarkets. That means many Australians, who love their Fish n’ Chips, are likely to be eating plastic.
Why no ban?
There are three groups of people responsible for eliminating single-use plastic bags: The Australian people, the Australian government and the businesses which provide the bags.
The Australian people.
If the Australian people took their own reusable bags to shops and stopped using plastic bags, then shops and supermarkets would stop buying them from the manufacturers – it’s simple economics.
In some areas of the country, many people bring their own bag. However, a visit to most suburban shopping areas in most parts of Australia on any given day would reveal trolleys full of plastic bags.
Why do people still use plastic?
Because they can. The plastic bags are available, they are still free in most shops and they are easy to take.
“Because I’m too busy to bring my own bag.”
Surely it’s not too hard to remember to throw the reusable bags into the back of the car and leave them there between shopping trips. Also, for those who forget, the reusable bags are available for purchase at the check-out.
“Because I don’t want to pay for them.”
Woolworths, Coles and IGA, Australia’s major supermarkets, sell reusable shopping bags for about $1AU each, not a large sum for people who can easily spend up to $AU200 on a weekly family grocery shop.
$1AU for a bag that can be used over and over again.
Interestingly, ALDI, with many stores throughout Australia, has never provided single-use plastic bags and that has not stopped people from shopping there and has not caused the business to go broke.
“But I use them as bin-liners.”
Many of us do. However, think about how many bags the average Australian takes from the weekly grocery shop, shall we say 10?
In order to justify taking 10 bags from the checkout per week, ten full bags of rubbish would have to be thrown in the bin each week – that’s a lot of rubbish.
The single use plastic bags are not the only bags which can be used to hold rubbish. Items such as bread and take-away meals come in their own plastic bags which could serve as bin liners, instead of becoming the rubbish themselves.
“But I didn’t know they were harmful.”
Most Australians will have been exposed to at least some educational or promotional program informing them of the damage caused by single-use plastic bags. If they somehow escaped this education, surely we can trust in the collective intelligence of the good folk of Australia to deduce for themselves why reusable bags are so readily available.
Therefore, considering the factors listed above, if most Australians continue to happily use plastic bags to carry their purchases from the shops, there can only be one reason – they simply don’t care.
One example supports this last statement.
Retail outlet Target did phase out plastic bags in 2009, but brought them back to the check-out in 2013, apparently because customers complained about being forced to pay 10-20c per bag. The ban on bags was the most common customer complaint during this period.
The Australian Government.
The Federal Government is the only body with the authority to implement a nation-wide ban on single use plastic bags. It hasn’t done so.
A documentary series recently aired on the ABC (Australia’s government funded public broadcaster) called War on Waste, highlighted the issue and explained in very accessible language the damage that is caused by the bags. The program also secured an interview with the current Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg.
After fumbling gloriously with a sparkling new reusable coffee cup, Frydenberg explained the lack of a ban in true political rhetoric, he blamed the states. Frydenberg passed the buck and absolved himself and his ministry of all responsibility to ban single-use plastic bags. Then he left.
Frydenberg’s predecessor, Greg Hunt, also failed to implement a ban, despite being named ‘Best Minister in the World’ while he held the portfolio.
The shops and businesses also must accept some responsibility for change. Some companies have. Australia Post, Harris Farm Markets, hardware store Bunnings and furniture giant Ikea all adopted policies to reduce or eliminate the bags, and, as highlighted earlier, ALDI never used plastic bags.
Supermarkets such as Woolworths, Coles and IGA, however, which supply most of the daily groceries to most of the Australian population, have still not banned single-use plastic bags.
What of the plastic bag manufacturuers? Yes, they are a legal and legitimate business but it could also be said that they are profiting from environmental destruction – at the very least this is unethical and not the act of a good corporate citizen. Is it time to start imposing some form of financial penalty on plastic manufacturers?
That seems to be a question for the government. Perhaps Mr. Frydenberg can look into this – once he has mastered the art of using a keep cup.
Around the World.
Australia trails other countries which have adopted policies to reduce the damage caused by plastic bags. Many of these countries do not enjoy the wealth and living standards which Australians celebrate.
Bangladesh, Rwanda, South Africa and China have all made some effort to ban or reduce plastic bags, but Australia has not.
Ireland and Taiwan have also moved towards ridding their countries of plastic bags. Australia has not.
Even in Brunei, plastic bags are not available at supermarkets on weekends and can also incur a charge at other times. Brunei is an autocratic regime which is not famed for its socially progressive or liberal values and whose economy is solely dependent on oil. Yet it has done more than some parts of Australia to curb the environmental damage caused by single-use plastic bags.