Australia falling behind third world on global map of plastic bag bans

Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda and Somalia all have one up on Australia.

Along with Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, these third world countries have taken a stand on the harmful environmental impacts of single use plastic bags and banned them completely.

In Australia, plastic bag bans exist in South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT, while NSW, Queensland and Victoria remain in a deadlock over the issue, committed to the cause, but not yet ready to act.

"We should be embarrassed. It's a disgrace," said Clean Up Australia managing director Terrie-Ann Johnson.

That third-world countries moved to ban plastic bags before Australia is a reflection on our society, she said.

"We are so spoilt here in Australia, because we live in this land of high convenience. We baby boomers have really created this spoilt society, where everything is single use."

Single-use plastic bags first hit Australian check-outs shortly after they were first distributed by the US supermarket industry in 1977.

Of the five billion plastic bags used by Australians every year, it is believed about 150 million end up as litter.

A recent ministerial roundtable on plastics saw Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt meet with state environment ministers from Queensland, NSW and Victoria, where they established a "steering group" to continue working towards reducing plastics.

"The steering group...was established to understand the extent of the problem and to identify the gaps and successes in what is already being done in other jurisdictions," said NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman, adding that the government was currently working towards introducing a container deposit scheme by July next year.

But Jeff Angel from the Boomerang Alliance, which has long campaigned for a ban, said the experience of other jurisdictions should be well known by now.

"The longer we talk about this the more we contribute to the growing plastic pollution crisis. It appears to us that there is very little genuine opposition to a bag ban and the community is getting increasingly frustrated at the endless talk and no action."

Mr Angel said, it was crucial that any future ban included all identified 'biodegradable and degradable' bags up to 70 microns. A standard single use plastic bag is 35 microns.

"So-called bio-degradable bags are usually made from plastic, and just break down into small pieces."

Those small pieces become microplastics, which end up in waterways and the stomachs of marine life.

"We want to see reusable bags, not just bags you throw away after one use," Mr Angel said.

In a 2015 report on plastic bag reduction, Clean Up Australia laid out actions taken by jurisdictions around the world, varying from full bans, to partial bans or mere levies applied to plastic bags.

Ms Johnson said it was interesting to note the stark differences between Australia and other parts of the world, such as countries in Africa where bans have long been in place.

"We expect someone to look after our disposal because we are a wealthy nation. They are not wealthy nations, they can't afford waste management. Yet they engaged the community in the process, where nobody lost anything but everybody gained something."

She said the battle for a ban was one that had required patience.

"Let's just say I've been working on this since 2003. I'm well and truly over it. We just feel this is such low hanging fruit for the government, we don't see why we can't just enact an eastern seaboard solution now."

In March last year Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said he was willing to use the "bully pulpit" of the national role to "get rid" of plastic bags.

Asked by Fairfax Media if this was still his goal, Mr Hunt did not reply. However he said states and territories were "overwhelmingly taking action to reduce plastic bag use," adding, "the Turnbull Government is showing national leadership on this issue."

Some of the biggest stakeholders to be affected by a ban would be Coles and Woolworths, both of which attended the recent roundtable and expressed their support for any decisions made by state and federal governments.

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Originally Published here.


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