Australians should not be fooled by claims that plastic bag use has been slashed, with paltry reductions made across the retail sector, green groups have warned.
An Australian Retailers Association report released today suggests large supermarket chains have reduced consumption of plastic bags by 29%, or half a billion bags.
But with 6.9 billion bags used in Australia, the reduction represents just 7% of all plastic bags used across the country, said the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and Environment Victoria (EV).
“Despite encouraging efforts made by many Australians to reduce plastic bag use, in reality we continue to be addicted to them,” said Jenny Henty, EV’s Sustainable Production and Consumption Campaign Director.
Ms Henty said while EV and ACF supported reductions, a levy or ban on plastic bags must be introduced rather than relying on the voluntary code.
“Until a levy is introduced Australia will never make a dramatic impact on the scourge of plastic bags,” she said.
“This report is no boast. While the voluntary code remains in place, 6.4 billion plastic bags continue to choke our waterways, parks and landfill sites, in the process killing thousands of animals.”
ACF Sustainability Campaigner Suzie Brown said when a 27cent levy was imposed on plastic carry bags in Ireland in 2002, use decreased by 90% over a six month period.
“Many Australian shoppers have shown a willingness to BYO bags but a threshold may now have been reached. It will be difficult to make serious reductions in bag use beyond those customers who are motivated to change their habits,” said Ms Brown.
“For lasting environmental change everyone needs prompts and reminders. A levy on carry bags at the check out would provide this. At the moment there is no inducement to bring your own shopping bags.
“These results show that a national, voluntary approach is not the best solution. It is a cop out for governments and retailers – particularly retailers who refuse to adopt best environmental standards.”
Federal and State Environment Ministers agreed to a voluntary reduction code in 2003. The code aims to cut by 25 per cent the total number of bags used by the end of 2004, and by 50 per cent by the end of 2005.