Brad Pettitt

21 March 2012 – The City of Fremantle’s recent initiative to ban plastic bags was driven by local businesses, a public petition, and strong commitment to sustainability and renewable energy, according to the WA city’s mayor, Brad Pettitt.

The city is the first carbon neutral local government in WA  and the second in the country behind City of Sydney and will now be the first council in Australia to pass a local law banning single use non-biodegradable, lightweight plastic bags.

Dr  Pettitt told The Fifth Estate the council had a policy of encouraging retailers not to use the bags but a committee had now recommended changing by-laws to enforce the policy.

The local law, expected to be in place by June, has had positive responses from the community, Dr Pettitt said.

The initiative to ban the bags had in fact come from Fremantle businesses and a public petition to council as well as local green group Plastic Free Freo who had lobbied extensively for the ban including screening of the film Bag It

“We’re banning the bags both for environmental reasons and the impact it has on wildlife,” he said.

We waste four billion of these lightweight bags a year around Australia and for environmental leadership we hope this move shows the rest of the state.”

The draft law will be put out for public comment, and the ban will follow a phase out period and public education campaign. Penalties would apply, he said.

The alternatives will be biogradable bags made from corn starch, paper bags or BYO bags.

Towns such as Coles Bay in Tasmania and Mogo in southern NSW have gone plastic bag-free since 2003 but according to Planet Ark, Fremantle will be the first council to enforce this policy with a local law, Dr Pettitt said.

The law would draw on legislation passed in South Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT.

Fremantle council also plans to switch to biodegradable dog refuse bags.

The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that more than 100,000 whales, seals, turtles, and birds die every year as a result of plastic bags.  In Australia, a Bryde’s whale died in Trinity Bay near Cairns.  An autopsy found that the whale’s stomach was tightly packed with plastic including supermarket bags, food packages and bait bags.

Dr Pettitt said Fremantle council was pursuing many initiatives to create a low carbon community including large scale investment in renewable energy.

“We see ourselves as a leader in the sustainability area in WA,”he said. “Most challenging for urban based councils like Fremantle is reducing carbon emissions in our own corporate activity and mandating energy efficiency buildings.

“We have been working with the state government on plans for a light rail network, travelling south from Fremantle 20 kilometres to the City of Cockburn.

“In Fremantle we have radically increased our bike network, and our target is for people to increase their bicycle trips from three to eight per cent daily.”