Has the single-use plastic bag ban made any difference?
We all know that single-use plastic bags are a problem, right? Not only are a significant amount of resources used to make them, but plastics also take between 20 to 1000 years to break down and during that time can cause harm to our environment and the creatures that live both on the earth and in our oceans and seas (1).
Single-use plastic bag bans are in place in Australia in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory. Victoria is introducing a ban in November 2019 and as for New South Wales (NSW), there is hope on the horizon. Apparently, reducing plastic waste is now high on their agenda since a former staffer, who had blocked plans to introduce the bans, has left. According to the report, the NSW government have been embarrassed about falling behind in this important area (2), rightly so I say, but better late than never!
Queensland, where I live, introduced the ban on 1 July 2018. There were reports of people hoarding plastic bags in the lead-up to the ban, like only putting one item into each plastic bag at the self-service checkout. I'm not sure if this was true, but some people were very attached to these plastic bags. I must admit I found them quite useful too as I'd used them for a plastic liner for all my bathroom waste. But you know what, it's been 15 months since the ban and I've made do, really it hasn't been a huge imposition and it's good to know that you're doing something positive to help the environment. In a recent press release, the Queensland Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, Minister for Science and the Minister for Arts, the Honourable Leeanne Enoch stated that litter had decreased by 70% since the introduction of the ban. She also gives an example of how one supermarket, IGA Springfield, has reported that since the ban 7000 single-use plastic bags have been taken out of circulation in their store each week (2). That's impessive! Now, believe it or not, I tried to google how many supermarkets there were in Queensland but couldn't find anything! My google mojo mustn't be working today! Nevermind, if we look at how many major supermarkets there are in Australia we can guesstimate how many single-use plastic bags might be saved each week if the whole country introduced the bans. So, Coles has 807 Australian stores, Woolworths 995; IGA 1600; and Aldi 500+ - well that's around 3902 supermarkets that could potentially save 7000 single-use plastic bags a week each - a total of 27,314,000 single-use plastic bags gone each week across Australia! Really? Yep, and I'm not going to even try to work out what that would be annually - my calculator doesn't go that high!
In researching this blog post, I came across a discussion paper from the Government of South Australia. They really are leaders on the war on waste here in Australia. In January 2019, they opened up an opportunity for the public to talk about other single-use plastic items that are impacting the environment and what could be done about it. The Government is taking its lead from the European Union who is looking to ban other single-use plastic items like plates, cutlery, straws, cotton bud sticks, and balloon sticks (4). As a result of this consultation, the Government of South Australia has set up a task force to address these issues. Have a look at https://www.greenindustries.sa.gov.au/supp-taskforce to see exactly what they have in mind.
Western Australia has also opened up discussions with interested stakeholders to address the issue of single-use plastics. This image is direct from their report and shows the top 10 items that are found on Western Australia's coastal beaches (5). I imagine a similar situation across all Australian beaches. It was definitely the case in a Sea Shepherd beach clean up I participated in earlier this year at Redcliffe, Queensland. My point in mentioning these other issues is that I see the single-use plastic bag ban as being a starting point for creating awareness about environmental issues for everyday people. I really believe that more people are starting to look at what things they are using in their lives that could be modified to be more environmentally friendly. I've certainly seen this happening on social media, with more products being promoted as an alternative to single-use plastics. It's great to see and I truly believe we'll start to see this happening more and more in the future. So in answer to the question in the title of this blog - has the single-use plastic bag ban made any difference? Well, yes I most definitely think it has. At best guess, the reduction of single-use plastic bags being used in supermarkets means less going into landfill and our waterways as well as the added benefit of more people taking an interest in environmental matters and trying to do the right thing to reduce their use of single-use plastics. Winning I'd say! What will be ban next!
(4) Search on google - Turning the Tide Discussion Paper from the Government of South Australia.