Bag rage: Here’s what will be banned next
Six months ago it didn't seem possible that Australians would ever give up the convenience of single-use plastic shopping bags.
But watching shoppers pack up their groceries at a nearby Woolworths Metro, it's clear that the bag ban has worked.
During the busy lunchtime rush this month, there are definitely some people still buying the thicker 15c bags available at the checkout but most people either had their own bags or were choosing to carry their groceries without a bag.
One woman who was juggling a tub of yoghurt, carton of mini-cucumbers and a salad, told news.com.au that she would definitely have taken one of the old grey bags before but didn't want to pay for one to transport her lunch back to work.
Even though she said she often forgot to bring her own bags, at least a third of her fellow shoppers had remembered to bring one. Only a handful of the approximately 50 shoppers bought the 15c bags. Other shoppers also improvised and were seen tucking lemons into handbags and microwave meals into backpacks.
While the major retailers won't reveal how many of the thicker 15c bags they were now selling, this month Coles and Woolworths revealed their bag ban had stopped 1.5 billion thinner plastic bags being dumped into the environment.
A news.com.au Facebook poll also indicated most people were remembering to bring their own reusable bags.
One shopper, Romina, said she mostly used reusable bags now for her shopping.
"I know it's a good cause so it's fine," she said.
Tim Silverwood, co-founder of Take 3, told news.com.au that anecdotal evidence suggested there were less of the thinner bags making their way to Australia's waterways.
"During our clean-up activities in NSW and Queensland there's definitely less thin grey shopping bags, according to our volunteers," Mr Silverwood said.
"I think we are all starting to realise now that it doesn't take that much change to make a big difference."
He said the success of the bag ban was a great opportunity to take the war against plastic to the next level.
This includes passing legislation in NSW to ban bags as well, reduce the use of the thicker bags and to follow the example of the European Union, which has plans to phase out or reduce 10 types of single-use plastic items.
The National Waste Report 2018 released in November showed that just 12 per cent of plastic in Australia was recycled. About 87 per cent was sent to landfill.
Each state and territory approaches waste and recycling differently. There are container deposit schemes in all states except Tasmania and Victoria but only ACT, South Australia and Victoria have a landfill ban.
NSW is the only state or territory not planning to introduce a plastic bag ban. In NSW, Woolworths and Coles have voluntarily phased out the bags but Jeff Angel of the Boomerang Alliance said a ban was still needed because a lot of smaller stores like chemists and food outlets continued to give out the lightweight bags.
Mr Angel wants the supermarket giants to reveal how many of the thicker 15c bags were being used as there was anecdotal evidence they were also ending up in the litter stream and landfill.
The thicker bags are 55 microns thick instead of 35 microns so there is more plastic in them.
Western Australia's environment minister Stephen Dawson recently revealed his intent to target the use of thicker bags - the type that Myer uses for example - as the next step.
"I think it would be a gradual phase-out, just as we've done with say microbeads," Mr Dawson said.
There are also many other forms of plastic that could be tackled and Australia is already behind in this area.
EUROPE BANS PLASTIC
The European Commission has moved to ban or reduce 10 types of single-use plastics by 2030.
If approved, littering by these items will be reduced by more than half, avoiding environmental damage which would otherwise cost €22 billion ($A34 billion). It will also avoid the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030.
These products are the top 10 most found single-use items on European beaches and make up 43 per cent of total marine litter.
The items that will be targeted include food containers, cups for beverages, cotton buds, cutlery/plates/stirrers/straws, sticks for balloons/balloons, packets and wrappers, beverage bottles, tobacco product filters and sanitary towels/wet wipes among European Union countries.
Items like cotton buds made with plastic would be replaced by sustainable alternatives while there will be an attempt to reduce the consumption of things like food containers.
The commission will also tackle fishing gear, which makes up an extra 27 per cent of marine litter.
European Union countries have recognised the damaging impact plastics can have and the costs of cleaning litter up as well as the losses for tourism, fisheries and shipping.
Due to its slow decomposition, plastic accumulates in seas, oceans and on beaches. Plastic residues have been found in sea turtles, seals, whales and birds, but also in fish and shellfish, meaning humans could also be consuming them. There are estimates that mussel-loving Europeans could be consuming up to 11,000 microplastics in a year.
Mr Silverwood said the 10 items being banned in Europe were also regularly found during clean-up activities in Australia, although the container deposit scheme was helping to reduce the number of beverage containers.
More than one billion containers have already been collected in NSW in the first year of operation of the scheme.
He said Australia should introduce measures similar to the European Union, to tackle other types of single-use plastics.
"We've got a problem with things like straws and coffee cups," he said. "I would like to see much more action at state and commonwealth level.
"We've shown that as a nation, we can adapt and we have to. We already have eight million tonnes of plastic go into the ocean every year and that will continue if we can't get rid of single-use plastic items."
Many Australians are already shunning things like straws and coffee cups and Mr Silverwood said this sent a strong message to businesses and politicians that Australians want to see less single-use items.