Re Ban on plastic bags spreads to Tasmania by Andrew Darby, November 12, 2010, Sydney Morning Herald
The contention by the Australian Retailers Association that 75% of 4.5 billion plastic bags used each year selectively fails to mention that most bags are re-used only once, if at all, as garbage bin liners or to collect after pet dogs. Being thin and easily dispersed through air and water, discarded plastic bags widely disseminate into the environment and degrade poorly -I have found plastic bags strewn on uninhabited Svalbard Arctic beaches, carried by transpolar ocean currents from Siberia. This contributes to environmental and marine damage out of proportion to their small contribution to the litter stream-a factor the ARA deceptively ignores in emphasising that banning bags will “deal with only 0.6% of the litter stream,” presumably due to their easy compactability in land fills.
Australia could do well to learn from the plastics tax levy imposed on plastic shopping bags adopted in Ireland in March 2002. Within weeks there was a 94% reduction in use. Plastic bags are now viewed as socially unacceptable and the levy directly charged to the customer act as deterrent to plastic bag use. What was previously perceived to be free makes pause of the real cost of plastic bags to the environment and to consumers. Not only was there near unanimous support for “plastax,” the levy successfully instigated a shift toward improved consumer eco-consciousness and substantial reduction in plastic bags that end up in the litter stream.
Australian retailers have long opposed moves to ban plastic bags or directly charge the consumer for their use for fear of being abandoned for stores that offer unrestricted use of plastic bags. As the cost of plastic bags is incorporated into grocery prices by retailers, banning or deterring their use by imposing a consumer levy could reduce grocery bills. When consumers who choose to purchase and use durable shopping bags have long been charged the same till prices as those who do not, the banning or charging for plastic bags at the check-out counter will finally free us from our hidden but enforced obligation to subsidise the additional cost of unrestrained plastic bag use.