Here’s provocation. While Woolies and Coles are praised for flagging that they will ban free lightweight plastic bags one academic says it’s a measure that won’t help the environment much.
The idea, initiated by Woolworths and quickly followed by Coles and Harris Farm Markets, is to stop issuing free throw-away bags and instead charge for slightly thicker “re-usable” bags.
But Gary Mortimer associate professor, Queensland University of Technology, writing in The Conversation this week, says the move will save the supermarket giants more than $1 million a year but shoppers’ habits as shown in other parts of the world, may well adapt to the new charges and simply start paying for the slightly thicker ones and then throw these away as well.
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found that the average UK household had 40 plastic bags stashed away around the home. Also a South Australian parliamentary review found that only about 30 per cent of shoppers actually recycled their re-usable bags.
In the US, studies indicated 40 per cent of shoppers continued to use disposable bags, despite a 5 cent levy.
In 2002, Ireland applied a 15 pence (22c) charge to single-use plastic bags, claiming a 90 per cent reduction within 6 months Then in 2007 it increased the charge to 22 euro cents (32c) in response to increased bag usage. Sadly, shoppers had become conditioned to the 15p charge and returned to their old habits.
Jeff Angel director of The Boomerang Alliance and chief executive of the Total Environment Centre agrees we need more than moving to sturdier reusable bags that cost more.
He’d like to see Woolworths to jump straight to “fully proven reusable bag so the whole community adapts and use only genuinely reusable bags.”
He’d also like to see all states and territories ban the lightweight bag especially since major national retailers are going that way.
“It makes no sense to resist this,” he says.
Plastic bags are banned in South Australia, the ACT, the Northern Territory and Tasmania and will be banned in Queensland from next year.
Another anti-bag campaigner Jon Dee of Do Something (and host of Smart Money on SKY NEWS) recently urged the federal government to institute a nationwide ban. “Such a national ban would reduce Australia’s plastic bag use by at an estimated six billion bags a year,” he said in media reports.
Angel has also urged a review into plastic packaging of fresh food with the aim of removing or replacing all unnecessary packaging
How about a shopping bag that’s cool and sends a message to the landfill industry?
It’s worth keeping in mind that some places such as San Francisco banned all plastic bags at the checkout years ago and as far as I could tell on my one trip to that city for the Greenbuild conference in 2013, the sky had not fallen in and the economy was still pumping.
People simply remember to bring their own bags. Like people used to once upon a time when food was scooped out of large containers, weighed and priced accordingly. You can do that now in a back to the future way at bulk food stores like Naked and The Source. And if you like you get to invest in a cool shopping bags made from recycled material to spread the susty message to other shoppers, or stylish market basket if that’s your preference.
This is not a lightweight issue.
Angel says flimsy lightweight bags account for threats to wildlife and more than three million tonnes of plastic are used in Australia every year, with “most disposable plastics either landfilled or littered.”
We discard between 100,000 and 120,000 tonnes plastic annually, he says. That’s equivalent to 2.4 kilograms per person in Australia.