Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, has praised supermarket shoppers and operators for cutting three billion plastic bags from circulation during the past two years. He said a report compiled by the Australian National Retailers Association, representing major supermarkets, showed that by the end of last year supermarkets had reduced their annual use of lightweight, single-use bags by 45 per cent compared with 2002.

“This is an enormous achievement by shoppers and supermarket management and a clear demonstration of a behavioural change by thousands of Australians,” Senator Campbell said. “The cutback means fewer bags in the litter stream. The goal must be to stop plastic bags getting into the litter stream and spoiling Australia’s environment.”

The Senator says the result came from entirely voluntary action – “no regulations, no levies or additional costs to shoppers. I am delighted that the major supermarkets are committed to achieving the 50 per cent goal by the end of this year. I also share their view that development of a viable degradable bag to replace existing lightweight plastic ones is a key to achieving further significant reductions.”

Plastics have been widely used in Australia in the past few decades but environmentalists say plastic bags have had a devastating impact on the nation’s natural environment. According to Clean Up Australia plastic bags can take between 20 and 1000 years to break down. Despite their recyclable nature, an estimated 6.67 billion or 36,700 tonnes of plastic bags are disposed of in landfill sites throughout Australia each year.

Many thousands of marine mammals and seabirds die every year around the world as a result of plastic litter. A 2004 NSW Parliamentary paper reported that plastic bags are of “significant concern in the marine and aquatic environment, as aquatic life can be threatened through entanglement, suffocation and ingestion.” The then Federal Environment Minister was reported as saying: “All environmental ministers believe that all plastic bags should be phased out within five years. If this voluntary campaign isn’t working then of course we have to consider what to do (next)….”

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