Review of the Plastic Shopping Bags (Waste Avoidance) Act 2008

Review of the Plastic Shopping Bags (Waste Avoidance) Act 2008
  • Plastic Bag Phase Out

Review of the Plastic Shopping Bags (Waste Avoidance) Act 2008

The Plastic Shopping Bag (Waste Avoidance) Act 2008 has provided significant benefit to the community including; restricting supply of lightweight single-use plastic bags, reducing the number of these bags in the litter stream and increasing household acceptance of alternatives to lightweight single-use plastic shopping bags. According to the Plastic Bag Ban Empirical Study conducted by the Ehrenberg Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia in July and August 2011, approximately 80% of the community supports the ban, twice as many households regularly carry their own bags at any given time than before the ban and only 4% of households claim to never carry their own bags. Waste stream data from Keep Australia Beautiful (KAB) yearly litter count indicates a significant 45% decrease in the percentage of lightweight single-use plastic shopping bags contributing to the litter stream in South Australia, a big improvement compared to the other Australian states and territories. This is a good proxy indicator of the impact on the total waste stream, however inconclusive as it includes all litter. The transition for retailers was reported to be smooth with the Retailers Group Task Force reporting over 50% of retailers had no issues. Some of the minor issues recorded included increases in shoplifting due to concealed items in false bottoms, and OHS issues related to transmission of disease due to dirty bags and injury due to lifting of heavier individual bags. The study highlighted that with the ban there was a perceived reduction of lightweight single use plastic bags in landfill and households bringing bags is now considered normal, however the purchase of bin liners by households has increased from 15% to 80%, increasing some scepticism about the broader environmental benefit of the ban. Any future initiatives should include a focus on changing household bin liner behaviour. There is also potential to extend the ban to include some of the alternatives to lightweight single-use plastic shopping bags. More than half (56%) of the exit interviewees were supportive of extending the ban to include heavy and thick plastic bags1, which have a limited lifespan (2.8 months for thicker plastic bags and 5.2 for heavy plastic bags compared with 15.9 for green bags and 17.8 for cotton bags). The Task Force recommended that any extension of the ban should also include further education regarding heavy plastic versus biodegradable, the lifespan of the bags and the impact these choices make on the waste stream.
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