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February 28, 2021

Supermarkets take up plastic free challenge, but not state govt

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The inaugural Lismore Boomerang Bags “sew-in” earlier this year is hoping to make a move away from any plastic shopping bags. Photo Jenni Law.

Eve Jeffery

In a welcome tit-for-tat move last Friday, Australia’s grocery giants Coles and Woolworths announced within hours of each other, that they will be phasing out single-use plastic bags in New South Wales over the next 12 months.

Greens MP ‘delighted’

Greens MP for Ballina, Tamara Smith said she was delighted with the announcements. ‘This is a great decision for our environment’, said Ms Smith. ‘I congratulate the supermarkets on taking action themselves and recognising that consumers are ready for this change and in many cases demanding it.

‘It’s particularly apt that this announcement comes during Plastic Free July, where the public is challenged to reduce their consumption of throw away plastics – by bringing their own bags to supermarkets, bringing their own cups for takeaway coffee or refusing plastic straws or cutlery when eating on the go.’

Though technically, the plastic-free move is more of a single-use to multi-use plastic project, both supermarket chains will still provide a plastic bag and are set to make a profit from the switch. The the free single-use plastic bag will be replaced with the offer of a multi-use plastic bag for purchase at the check-out for those who need a bag but haven’t brought their own. 

Ultimately, the best thing for the environment are reusable cloth bags made from scraps and remnants à la Boomerang Bags Lismore and other reusable shopping bag projects.

But, the ban is a step in the right direction.

Ms Smith says she has written to the NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton to ask when single use lightweight plastic bags will be banned. ‘I am glad to see that businesses such as these two big supermarkets haven’t waited for the NSW Government to get its act together.

‘South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT already have bans on single use plastic bags and Queensland’s ban will come into effect next year. How much longer do the people of NSW have to wait for their government to take action on banning this source of plastic pollution in our landscape and waterways?’

Labor ‘disappointed’

Meanwhile NSW Labor has expressed its ‘disappointment and surprise’ at the state Liberal-National government’s refusal to ban the single-use plastic bags in the state.

NSW Shadow Minister for the North Coast, Walt Secord, has called on NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton to explain why they are refusing to do so – especially when the supermarket sector has already ‘jumped on board’.

Mr Secord said ‘the whole direction of the nation is to ban single use plastic bags and the Liberals and Nationals in NSW are completely out of step with the rest of Australia.’

He has also challenged North Coast-based NSW Parliamentary Secretary Ben Franklin, Tweed MP Geoff Provest and Lismore MP Thomas George (Nationals) to state whether they support a ban on single use plastic bags.

Mr Secord said bans in other states and territories have been effective.

‘In South Australia, it is estimated that 400 million fewer plastic bags are used each year since the ban began, while there was a 36 per cent reduction in bags going to landfill in the ACT.

‘NSW is at the bottom of the pack when it comes to protecting our environment, with plastic bag pollution occurring and new tree clearing laws coming into effect soon with the support of the Liberal and National parties.

‘NSW Labor has committed to banning single-use plastic bags – and has indicated a state Labor government would legislate if the state Liberals-Nationals do not.

Labor has a bill before the NSW Parliament that will implement a ban on single-use plastic bags but Mr Secord says the government has so far refused Labor’s call for bipartisan support on the issue.

Ms Smith says the Greens also intend to reintroduce a Plastic Bag Prohibition Bill into Parliament this year if the NSW government does not introduce its own legislation.


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4 COMMENTS

  1. ‘Multiple use’ plastic bags are not necessarily a solution. They are still plastic and where currently in use, people just pay for them and the bags still often end up being single use anyway. Those ‘biodegradable’ ones are worse as they break down into smaller pieces that spread even further around the globe.

    Not too difficult to throw a few bags (of other material) in the car.. particularly as most people know they are about to go shopping, it becomes part of the preparation….

  2. My City Council Gave out some Truly green bags Made out of unbleached cotton they are tops but could have made two sizes in them as bigger sizes are the best for shopping.

  3. It’s a case of ‘man management’, not banning the bags. Cars kill people but we don’t ban cars etc etc. Find ways of adequately disposing of the bags if that’s the problem.
    But I suspect it’s just an issue which the left has chosen to maintain some prominence. If we get rid of plastic bags from supermarkets we’ll just have to buy them from elsewhere. It’s a silly issue.
    Anyway there’s a huge backlash on social media which Coles and Woolies had better take note of before doing something silly.

    • You are right on this one Jon -as you say”If we get rid of plastic bags from supermarkets we’ll just have to buy them from elsewhere”. That is why the supermarkets are keen on the idea. In Canberra people now buy bags when they forget to BYO, and those who used to use the free bags to wrap rubbish now buy garbage bags form the supermarket. Plastic bags take up little space in landfill and are a small percentage of biodegradables. The damage of plastic bags to marine life comes from discriminate disposal largely in developing countries. I can only be prevented by funding proper rubbish collection, disposal , reuse and public awareness in those countries, as Australia did in the Sri Lankan resort town of Hikkduwa. Ongoing external funding of rubbish collection using local labour is one of the best ways to put money in the hands of some of the poorest people while removing this plastic blight from our environment.

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