Authorities have raised doubts about the effectiveness of the single-use plastic bag ban in several Australian states after a recent report suggested that shoppers and retailers are buying reusable plastic bags and then throwing them away.
In the past few months, some states have banned shops from selling plastic bags that are less than 35 microns thick.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Tasmania’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) recently conducted an inquiry to investigate the growing trend.
Similar bans are to take effect in Queensland and Western Australia from July 2018. Victoria also recently announced it wants to adopt the same strategy, though details are still being debated.
The fear is that both shoppers and retailers have simply switched to thicker bags in order to escape the ban and continue to ditch them despite them being reusable.
Single-use bags were banned from Tasmania in 2013, while the ACT’s own plastic ban dates back to 2011. When it was reviewed in 2014, a report showed a reduction of 36% in the volume of plastic bags of all types in landfill.
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However, the 2014 report also revealed that a rise in sales to retailers of ‘heavier weight boutique plastic bags, as a substitution for the lightweight bags, would be an adverse unintentional outcome of the ban’.
Although the findings did not seem worrying at the time, the ACT climate change and sustainability minister, Shane Rattenbury, admitted he was ‘worried about the extent to which retailers are using slightly thicker plastic bags, which is currently permitted,’ and asked for a new review.
He claimed that manufacturers were quick to provide thicker bags once the ban took effect, adding: “As a consequence I understand that many retailers and customers may not have changed their behaviour around the use of plastic bags, and perversely may instead be using thicker plastic bags for single uses.”
He also said to be considering an extension of the ban to thicker plastic bags.
Tasmania joined in on the debate as environment minister Matthew Groom, who commissioned a review of the ban to the EPA last June, concluded: “It would appear that there has been an increase in the volume of a thicker type of single-use bag that, while technically compliant, are inconsistent with the original intent. We want to fix this.”