Ban review: Thicker plastic bags not the answer, says Conservation Council

Ian Bushnell 30 January 2018 33
plastic bag

‘A Pla-sticky situation’: legislation under review after growing concerns of plastic bag proliferation in the ACT.

Simply increasing the minimum allowable thickness of plastic bags would not be a worthwhile result of a review of plastic bags legislation, according to the ACT Conservation Council.

Concerns at the continuing proliferation of plastic bags in the ACT has prompted the Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability, Shane Rattenbury, to direct the ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, Kate Auty, to review the 2010 legislation that banned lightweight plastic bags of less than 35 microns thick.

He wants the Commissioner to consider options that include increasing the minimum thickness of bags and requiring the use of biodegradable, compostable bags.

ACT Conservation Council Executive Director Larry O’Loughlin said the review was welcome but it might not be of much use if the review just finds that the thickness of plastic bags should be changed.

“We actually need to look at genuine change, that people remember to take receptacles with them,” he said.

Mr O’Loughlin said an outright ban might be the way to go but it would be good if we had an Australia-wide approach.

“It’s a matter really of what people need to understand to do and that they are better prepared and have more options of genuine reusable bags so when they come to the end of the life cycle they’re useful for something else and they’re not causing damage to the environment,” he said.

While plastic bags were only a small part of the overall waste problem, it was important they were dealt with because they did gradually work their way into the waterways, then into the ocean and marine environment, he said.

Mr Rattenbury said in his letter to Professor Auty that plastic bag manufacturers had been quick to ensure they were able to offer bags that were just over the 35-micron minimum limit to retailers.

“As a consequence, I understand that many retailers and customers have not changed their behaviour around the use of plastic bags, and perversely may instead be using thicker plastic bags for single uses,” he said.

“I have considered a number of options, such as whether it would be better to again increase the minimum thickness of plastic shopping bags to encourage numerous reuses of the bags, or whether it could instead be better to require the use of biodegradable, compostable bags. Another concern I have is the use of plastic bags that degrade into micro plastic pieces, thus creating further environmental issues.”

Professor Auty will investigate whether the legislation is effective and recommend any improvements that could benefit the environment.

Mr Rattenbury said he was worried about how much retailers were using slightly thicker bags and one option would be to increase the thickness to 75 microns, which Queensland was considering.

He also was interested to know what new technologies were available.

“We may be able to refine the scheme to ensure we further reduce the use of plastics, for example by only permitting single-use bags that are biodegradeable,” he said

Mr O’Loughlin said there were alternatives and people do use the canvas, jute or reusable ‘green’ bags available from supermarkets.

He said about replacing plastic with thicker plastic: “you might get an extra 50 lives out of a thick bag but you’re still going to end up with something in the ocean”.

There also could be better recycling options, as dedicated bins at shopping centres were hard to find.

“It would be good if all the people who give away the plastic bags would take them back to be recycled not just dumped into landfill here,” he said.

Professor Auty is expected to hand down her report by June.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Is increasing the thickness of the plastic the answer to curbing plastic shopping bag numbers? Let us know by commenting below.

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33 Responses to Ban review: Thicker plastic bags not the answer, says Conservation Council
Lukus Graham Lukus Graham 6:48 pm 04 Feb 18

Was a good excuse for supermarkets to charge for bags...

Cloth bags are probably the better way to go?

David Ewyk David Ewyk 9:03 am 04 Feb 18

Ban them outright. Short term pain for long term gain!

David Ewyk David Ewyk 9:01 am 04 Feb 18

Some stores like Healthy Life in Canberra Centre & Belconnen have banned plastic bags completely. They offer calico bags for $2 and no plastic at all. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s an encouraging start for a national company to take this stance. Hopefully other retailers will follow the lead! No one will want to pay $2 every time they walk into a shop for a bag so it will force everyone to think about it more and bring their own instead?

Peter Bee Peter Bee 8:55 pm 03 Feb 18

Ban them outright

Sue Ellen Sue Ellen 6:28 pm 03 Feb 18

Bags are a profitable industry for Coles and Woolies. They don't even bother to sell the material ones you can keep in your handbag anymore. I don't bother with them. Just shop at Aldi and use their free boxes then recycle them. Their quality prices and efficiency at checkouts is far better anyway.

Ian Ian 6:06 pm 03 Feb 18

Let me take a wild guess and state that I’m sure one of the findings of the review won’t be that the whole thing is a waste of time and should be abandoned.

Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:04 pm 02 Feb 18

Please, no biodegradable plastic bags. Ban plastic bags at the checkout all together. I remember storing things in bags and years later finding a pile of broken down shreds. I thought the rats had got in, but no, they were biodegradable bags. It was a huge mess. If there 'must' be bags at the checkout, paper bags = biodegradable, compostable bags, and they won't break down in your cupboard. But really, it's no burden to remember to take your owns bags. You remember your money...right

    Laynie Dawson Laynie Dawson 5:32 pm 03 Feb 18

    Maybe you can pay for my groceries and me buying my own bag...

    Which by the

    Way is $1.00 per bag....

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 6:02 pm 03 Feb 18

    Laynie Williams I have never bought a plastic shopping bag, because I take my own. It's really should try it. Plastic bags have never been free; we have paid for them in the shopping cost. Even those that don't use them have paid for those that do. I'm sure you are a big girl/boy and can buy your own groceries and bags (not subsidised by those who don’t use them.) The environment will thank you too.

Warwick Alsop Warwick Alsop 9:00 pm 02 Feb 18

They should make them free again and just mandate that they be biodegradable

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 2:17 pm 22 Jul 18

    Biodegradable bags are probably not the answer.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 2:44 pm 22 Jul 18

Margaret Edwards Margaret Edwards 8:47 am 02 Feb 18

Crochet market bags. Stronger and last. Be proud to take your shopping bags with you.

Simon Jenkins Simon Jenkins 5:27 am 02 Feb 18

I agree that something needs to happen - the idea was good but I have always struggled with the concept of replacing bags with something that is thicker. Sure they are recyclable but the act of recycling requires conscious doing so by the consumer. I have seen them used as garbage bags that go into landfill and at the registers these days if people don't have bags they just buy a couple of extra. The supermarkets win out this way also, because they aren't free.

Babs Mabbs Babs Mabbs 9:36 pm 01 Feb 18

We managed without them in the past. Just get rid of them altogether. Let the wowsers and nature haters winge as much as they like about having to cope with cloth bags.

Julie Maynard Julie Maynard 6:23 pm 01 Feb 18

Get rid of them all together. Make the only option a reusable bag only!

Henry Rocek Henry Rocek 4:37 pm 01 Feb 18

Maybe politicians that aren’t so thick? Useless Greens.

Jen Bright Jen Bright 4:35 pm 01 Feb 18

Wish I could find compostable bags readily! I only find them at ANU co op. Not exactly convenient.

Liz Cotton Liz Cotton 4:12 pm 01 Feb 18

Work with supermarkets to get them to stock biodegradable rubbish bags

Owen Draper-Roberts Owen Draper-Roberts 9:40 am 01 Feb 18

Why not just switch back to paper shopping bags ? They worked fine (well atleast tore as much as plastic ones) could be composted, and were only phased out by shops as plastic was cheaper. Make them from recycled paper and that's 2 problems solved

    Matt Donnelly Matt Donnelly 1:07 pm 01 Feb 18


    I ride my pushbike to the shops and back each day, and groceries often rupture and leak on the journey home. Fruit, yoghurt, honey, even a tub of stuffed olives has burst open in transit. If it weren’t for plastic bags, the pannier on my bike would be one sticky, oily mess by now.

    It annoys me that the new bags offered at supermarkets are too thick to tie knots in. I often have to carry a roll of garbage bags with me when I shop.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 8:55 pm 02 Feb 18

    I hope your are reusing the plastic bags many times over and not taking new ones each time. Plastic bags can be washed out. I wash them, but this isn't necessary every time they are used. The plastic bags I use these days are mostly Canberra Times wrappers, so no need at all to take supermarket bags or buy them. I have brought my shopping home many times by bike, but fortunately have never had a (major) mishap. If it's something messy though I would use one of my reused & reusable plastic bags. Otherwise a cloth bag, or loose in the panniers does.

Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 8:49 am 01 Feb 18

100% we should do something different to just increasing the thickness.

    Tiaan Wolzak Tiaan Wolzak 12:37 pm 01 Feb 18

    I hear paper is bio-degradable. What happened to those? (like burning wood to warm a home...god-forbid!)

Margaret Gracie Margaret Gracie 8:29 am 01 Feb 18

Get rid of them completely unless they are biodegradable.

Annie Wyer Annie Wyer 8:27 am 01 Feb 18

I bought a trolley from Ikea for $20 a few years ago, it’s quite big so I can carry quite a few things including bulk loo packets, I rarely need a plastic bag these days. It fitted neatly behind the drivers seat in my car when I lived beyond walking distance from the shops, but now I use it every day as I’ve moved closer in to the supermarket.

I’ve seen a few people now jumping on that bandwagon, including smartly dressed guys in business suits using identical trolleys to mine, which I found rather entertaining, but they are so practical.

I used to think that little old ladies were the only ones they were meant for but I’m so glad I have it, my shoulders, arms and neck no longer ache from carrying several full heavy bags.

Maybe fashion shows can start showing them off on the catwalks - and maybe the makers of these trolleys can give them a colourful makeover to improve them from “the little old lady” look.....

If governments are really serious about reducing plastic bag use, they might consider discounting or providing them like they do with rubbish bins to residents.

It’s no good looking towards the humble paper bag, as they are not practical, having to cut down much needed trees, just to be thrown away after a single use.

How about it Mr Rattenbury? Take this on as a challenge.

Lauren Melksham Lauren Melksham 7:35 am 01 Feb 18

It worked initially. People were shocked that the ease of use of something had been taken away from them. But the effect has plateaued for a while now. Just take them away, offer only cardboard boxes or for people to bring their own. It is the only way to make people take action. People will always just use what is available to them whether it costs 10c or not. I would also support an increase in the cost of the bags to as much as 50c maybe more. The only way to get through to people is via their pockets.

    Lauren Melksham Lauren Melksham 11:31 am 01 Feb 18

    Sam Walker I remember old people just taking bags from an unattended register!

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