In 2009, South Australia was the first Australian state to ban lightweight plastic bags. Since then, other jurisdictions have followed. The bans led to a very significant decrease in plastic bag litter, in some states over 70%. They have also helped change shopping habits with the major supermarkets estimating that 70-80% of customers use their own bags.
In 2018, Australian states and territories decided to investigate options to deal with thicker, heavyweight plastic shopping bags. At the time they estimated that over 900 million were being provided. That investigation did not lead anywhere until the Western Australian Government announced a ban on heavyweight plastic shopping bags from July 2022.
Consequently Woolworths has announced that they will not be providing heavyweight plastic bags in WA. The problem is that they plan to switch to selling paper bags instead. Paper bags may solve a plastic problem, but they still use resources and energy in their manufacture, and they are certainly not reusable. What is needed is a switch to genuinely reusable shopping bags so that the norm is that all shoppers use their own bags.
The Boomerang Alliance and our allies have released our national Heavyweight Shopping Bag Plan that seeks to achieve exactly that outcome. Our plan (and you can download a copy here) calls for regulations to eliminate single-use shopping bags and switch to only reusable bags within two years:
- Only Reusable Bags can be sold by retailers.
- A Reusable Bag is one that can be used multiple times for the purpose of shopping. Multiple times means a minimum of 125 round trips holding up to a specified maximum weight. The bag should be made of recycled materials and be able to be collected and recycled at the end of its life. Its performance must be credibly tested.
- Current thick plastic bags (usually sold for 15 cents) must be phased-out with a minimum $1 charged for their purchase in the meantime.