Approximately 6.9 billion new plastic bags are used by consumers each year.
Around 6 billion of these are HDPE and 900 million are LDPE bags. 53 per cent
are obtained from supermarkets, with the remaining 47 per cent from other
retailers. The plastic used in these two forms of plastic bags equates to
roughly two per cent (or over 36,850 tonnes) of total plastics produced in
Australia each year.
The problem with plastic bags include: littering and associated
indiscriminate waste disposal and consumer behaviour; resource consumption
issues, including reduction, reuse and recycling; plastic degradability issues
relating to littering and resource use; and social issues, community education
and awareness, and consumer perceptions.
An analysis of overseas approaches to mitigating the problem of plastic bags
indicates that there are two main approaches. One is to reduce the amount of
plastic bags used in the first place, with initiatives aimed at consumers. The
Irish plastic bag levy is an example of this. The second method is aimed at the
post-consumer stage, using initiatives to improve plastic bag collection and
Nine different options to deal with the impact of plastic bags in Australia
are canvassed. These include: retailers’ code of practice; kerbside
recycling; litter education; the introduction of biodegradable bags; the
introduction of plastic bag levies, and a ban on certain types of plastic bags.
The Environment Protection and Heritage Council has agreed to ask industry
and the community to cut plastic bag litter by 75 per cent by the end of 2004.
The following four short term actions were also agreed: government to develop
legislative options, including a possible plastic bag levy and ban on plastic
bags; retailers to develop and implement a strong National Code of Practice for
the Management of Plastic Retail Carry Bags by April 2003, which includes
targets for recycling and reductions in bag use.
The Environment Protection and Heritage Council approved the Australian
Retailers Association Code of Practice, but noted that if the Code is not
implemented and / or targets not reached, Ministers will again look at
implementing mandatory measures. Ministers also indicated their support for
phasing out light weight single use carry bags containing HDPE within five
years. In March 2004 Premier Carr was reported as saying that he will soon
force supermarkets to charge for plastic bags or ban them altogether.