Plastic bag litter is dangerous and ugly. In the marine environment, whole bags appear similar to the food normally eaten by animals such as turtles and whales. Once ingested the animals can die. One alarming survey by the Queensland Parks Service found 70% of dead Loggerhead Turtles had eaten plastic bags. The bags (including so-called biodegradable bags) also break up into microplastics, which can enter the food chain and end up on our plates.
While most people don't litter plastic bags, we pay for their impact by a degraded environment and contamination of our seafood. Almost 50 environment and community groups have joined together to call for strong action.
At least 180 million plastic bags enter the environment a year - from consumers, overflowing bins and landfill sites.
Australia has tried a voluntary retailer program aiming to reduce lightweight plastic bags by 50%. It ended in 2005. Plastic bag use then increased between 2006 and 2007 by 17% and the litter continued to grow.
Many people claim they ‘reuse’ plastic bags as bin liners but this is not recycling (which involves repeated reuse or conversion into long lasting materials).
Plastic bags are made out of high density polyethylene derived from petrochemical sources. Just 8.7 plastic checkout bags contain enough embodied petroleum energy to drive a car 1 kilometre. Throwing them away is a serious waste of non-renewable resources.
There are dozens of ban or levy actions around the world from Africa, Asia, Europe and over 100 counties and municipalities in the US. Hawaii was the first US state to mandate a ban.
There is strong momentum and public support in Australia for a ban (a levy has been deemed too complex to administer and it loses impact after a while). Tasmania, Northern Territory, and the A.C.T. have already banned lightweight retail bags, but their bans still allow 'biodegradable' bags. In 2016, Queensland announced a ban on lightweight plastic retail bags, including 'degradable' and biodegradable' bags to come into effect in July 2018. In 2016, South Australia announced they will expand their ban to include 'degradable' and 'biodegradable' bags.
We need to improve on these laws and we are asking NSW, Victoria and other states to do better by closing the loopholes; moving on all bags (up to 70microns); and entrenching the use of reusable bags. The longer we wait, the greater the damage.