Single-Use Bag Ban
In October 2017 the Victorian Government announced their intention to ban single-use, light-weight plastic shopping bags but as of July 2018 no legislation has been passed to put this ban into effect.
Polyethylene, the plastic which makes up single-use bags, first made its appearance in the 1950's when it was used to make small sandwich bags. Making bags from polyethylene plastic was cheaper compared to paper, they were stronger and waterproof. But it wasn't until 1976, when the single-use bag was introduced in major American supermarkets that the switch from brown paper bags to plastic began. When the single-use plastic bag was first introduced there were differing opinions; suburban dwellers preferred the flat-bottom brown paper bag as it could easily be packed into vehicles whereas city shoppers enjoyed the convenience and ease of carrying a plastic two handled plastic bag. Despite differing opinions by 1985 the majority of retailers had single-use plastic bags and customers adapted to this change.
The working life of a single-use plastic bag is estimated at 15 minutes, from shop, home and ultimately the garbage, or worse, littered into our environment.
Unlike other materials, plastics don't decompose but instead break up into smaller and smaller pieces, called micro-plastics, which get carried into our waterways and consumed by wildlife. It was in 1997 that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was discovered, an area in the ocean which has gathered different materials and debris due to ocean currents. Home to 80,000 tonnes of discarded plastic, this discovery led to plastic becoming a real environmental concern.
Despite the ban on single-use plastic bags not being legislated in Victoria yet, as of July 2018 both Coles and Woolworths stores nationwide will no longer supply single-use plastic bags. Customers can bring their own bags, purchase re-usable bags for $0.99 or multiple-use thick plastic bags for $0.15.
Glenferrie Hawthorn's local butcher, Gourmet Meats, are investigating their options to reduce their use of plastics as much as possible. In the mean time they have switched to paper carry bags, however will still use plastic freezer bags for raw meat.
Bakers Delight will also be ditching single-use plastic bags and instead offering a multiple-use thick plastic bag for $0.10. Plastic will still be used for packages and loafs of cut bread.
Replacing single-use plastic bags that are 35 microns or less with thicker plastic bags will not necessarily reduce plastic consumption. Thick plastic bags use more plastic to be produced, will take longer to break down and can still be harmful to the environment in the long term.To reduce plastic consumption the key is to continuously reuse the thick plastic bags or better still, avoid the use of plastic and instead opt for reusable bags.
The ACT banned single-use plastic bags in November 2011 and a report in 2014 found that plastic bag waste in landfill decreased by about one third.
If you find you do have single-use plastic bags and soft plastics in your household be mindful of how you dispose of these, take them to be recycled at the proper facilities.
The plastic bag ban movement is growing. International Plastic Bag Free Day on 3 July aims to raise awareness of the environmental impact of the single-use plastic bag.