Bell tolls for plastic bags

Instead of joining calls by environment groups and the Greens for a 25-cent levy on plastic bags, Mr Carr said yesterday he would prefer an outright ban on bags which often end up as litter and can damage marine wildlife.

Espousing the momentum behind the move to a bag free environment Carr said, “Plastic bags clog up landfill and they’re littered across the environment.”.

Voluntary reduction targets for retailers have already been set by state and federal environment ministers. Ministers will receive a progress report on those targets next month. But if retailers cannot show they have made significant progress, states such as NSW and Victoria will work on their own strategies for banning bags.

It is likely this would start with the high density polyethylene bags that are used in supermarkets and are the focus of the national voluntary reduction scheme. Most bags are manufactured offshore.

Big retailers would be hit first, with small businesses given a chance to phase in the ban.

Environment groups have been calling for some time for a 25-cent levy on the bags to force customers to reduce their use.

But the Government is unlikely to introduce a levy in NSW alone because it would be difficult to administer. Carr did not say when he would make the changes, but said supermarkets knew the Government wanted to act.

The director of environment group Planet Ark, John Dee, congratulated Carr: “I’m very impressed NSW is setting the challenge because we need to see change across all retail sectors.” Mr Dee said the experience of towns such as Coles Bay in Tasmania and Huskisson on the South Coast proved people were able to deal with a plastic bag ban.

“We used to call for a levy but these towns have shown that when you have an outright ban people just bring their own bags,” Mr Dee said.
Australians use 6.9 billion plastic bags a year. Just over half of these come from supermarkets.

Greens Senator Bob Brown and independent MP Peter Andren were unsuccessful in their attempts last year to have legislation passed bringing in a levy. It was based on an Irish levy which had cut bag use 90 to 95 per cent.

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