Sustainable Development

How Australia cut plastic bag circulation by 80%

A customer carries bags of salt as he leaves a supermarket in central Beijing March 17, 2011. Residents in some Chinese cities flocked to buy iodized salt, as many of them believed it could help ward off potential radiation effects as a result of Japan's crippled nuclear power plant following a deadly earthquake and tsunami, local media reported.REUTERS/Jason Lee (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY DISASTER FOOD)

Could the end for plastic bags be near? Image: REUTERS/Jason Lee

Carly Sitzer
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It’s only been a few months since two of Australia’s biggest supermarket chains — Coles and Woolworths — decided to stop giving out free, single-use plastic shopping bags, and already, the country has seen significant results. According to the National Retail Association in Australia, in the three months since the bans were introduced in the land down under, there has been an 80 percent decrease in plastic bag consumption — or about 1.5 billion fewer bags in circulation.

While the country is currently celebrating the success of the program, the new initiatives were met with hesitation when they were first introduced over the summer. Woolworths initially reported flailing sales while Coles went so far as to reverse the ban following the outcry, but opted to charge a small fee for single-use plastic bags instead.

David Stout of the National Retail Association said he hopes other businesses — especially smaller ones — will follow suit after seeing the positive impact that the plastic bag ban has had, saying that smaller businesses should be able to “consider that strategy without fear of backlash.” Ultimately, he explained, he believes the responsibility falls on the consumer.

“Everyone delivering things in a package need to take responsibility for what they deliver it in,” Stout said. “I think there’s going to be a lot more pressure on all of us to be more aware of what we consume.”

He continued, “For business, for the environment, for the consumer, and of course even for councils which have work to remove these things from landfills, there’s a multitude of benefits on a whole to doing this.”

Image: Olio_ex on Twitter

Australia is certainly not alone in the efforts to ditch single-use plastic bags; earlier this year, Chile became the first country to ban plastic bans, encouraging consumers to bring their own reusable bags or opt for paper. On a smaller scale, a local Girl Scout troop in Pennsylvania recently helped pass legislation that adds a 10-cent fee on all plastic shopping bags and plastic straws in their hometown of Narbeth, Penn. — making it Pennsylvania’s first town to ban these single-use plastics.

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Plastic bag bans have been at the forefront of a movement against single-use plastic because they are — more often than not — not easily recycled; because most residential recycling programs do not accept them, they often end up in the landfill and, because of their lack of weight, are likely to travel with the wind and therefore easily transported back into our water sources, trees, and animal habitats.

To help make a difference — even if you’re not living in an area with a plastic-bag ban — consider bringing your own reusable bag, asking for single-bagged items instead of double, and find out if your local grocery store accepts plastic bags to be dropped off and recycled.

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Related topics:
Sustainable DevelopmentFuture of the EnvironmentAdvanced ManufacturingAustralia
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