The Western Australian government has confirmed it will ban plastic bags from 1 July 2018, bringing it into line with commitments from Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT.
The government said it was acting because while plastic bags made up a small proportion of solid waste and litter, they could seriously harm marine wildlife and birds.
“Studies have shown plastic pollution has a significant impact on our environment – seabirds have been found with their digestive tracts packed with plastic fragments and turtles can confuse plastic bags with jellyfish,” WA environment minister Stephen Dawson said.
Premier Mark McGowan said that while the retail industry and community had been working to address the problem, the number of plastic bags used had continued to grow.
“Therefore, it’s time for the state government to act, in the absence of a national approach,” he said.
The government’s actions are in stark contrast to its Liberal predecessor, which blocked the City of Fremantle from implementing its own plastic bag ban.
Queensland last week also announced its own plastic bag ban, including degradable and biodegradable bags.
This leaves NSW and Victoria as the only states to yet implement a ban, though Victoria has signalled its intention to act.
In contrast, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told the Tweed Chamber of Commerce in July that she did not want to put a ban in place because 80 per cent of plastic bans would already be cut due to phaseouts announced by retailers Woolworths and Coles.
“I don’t need to put a law in for something that’s already happening,” she said.
However Total Environment Centre executive director Jeff Angel said her response was not good enough.
“Well the fact is there will still be millions and millions of bags littered,” he told The Fifth Estate.
He welcomed Western Australia “moving very quickly”, and said he hoped we would continue to see progress as alarm increased regarding the extent of plastic pollution in our environment.
He said programs such as War on Waste had “expanded the constituency of concern”, however the move to ban plastic bags had been a long-running campaign by committed activists.
It is estimated that Australia uses five billion plastic bags a year.