Heavyweight Plastic Bags in the Firing Line

In Australia, every State and Territory has or will have a ban on lightweight plastic bags (<35microns) with NSW finally coming on board in 2022. Before these bans were introduced, literally billions of plastic bags were being used and tens of millions littered every year.

Plastic bag litter has been reducing, for example the Queensland Government reported a 70% decrease in bag litter following its action.

According to Coles and Woolworths, between 70-85% of their customers bring their own bag when shopping. The bans have created a cultural shift in behaviour.  

However, a significant minority still rely on buying a thicker, heavyweight plastic bag. These bags usually attract a 15 cent charge. There is little evidence that the demand for these bags is reducing or that they are being used repeatedly for their primary purpose - as a shopping bag. 

The state and territory governments have recognised the need to address heavyweight plastic bags and are now considering how to deal with them. They remain a litter and a waste problem.

Boomerang Alliance and our allies have put forward a proposal on how states and territories should address the continued use of heavyweight plastic bags. We have called for new regulations to control ALL shopping carry bags, with a program to eliminate single-use bags in the next 4 years. 

Our proposals include:

A ban on the free supply of all plastic bags (any thickness).

Consider a ban on all single-use shopping carry bags (including plastic, paper, woven or recycled) should be banned from use. This includes so-called degradable or biodegradable bags.

Where consumers have forgotten to bring a bag, reusable carry bags that meet a Reusable Standard should be available for purchase. The International Reusable Standard ISO 18603:2013 requires that the manufacturer has designed and made the bag to be reusable so that it can be reused multiple times for the same primary purpose. Other conditions such as minimum 80% recycled content and the provision of collection services for damaged bags to be recycled are necessary.

Thicker, heavyweight carry bags (currently supplied for a small charge by retailers) could be supplied but only at an increased cost designed to deter habitual use. We suggest a minimum $1 with proceeds donated to community groups involved in environmental activities. These bags should be phased out before 2025.

Retailers should report on the number of reusable and single-use bags used each year. This data to be used in any review on the effectiveness of government policies.

Exemptions for food takeaway services could be considered where outlets are permitted to provide a paper bag (without handles) when this is needed. Takeaway vendors are encouraged to find better packaging designs that eliminate the need for an additional paper bag.

Several state and territory governments are considering their options this year, so expect to hear more in coming months.


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