UK research shows plastic bag laws work - NSW Government holding out

In Parliament | 17.04.18

NSW Labor has renewed its calls on the Berejiklian Government to ban single use plastic bags – after European research showing that there has been a significant drop in the number of plastic bags littering British seabeds.

Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe and Shadow Minister for the North Coast Walt Secord pointed to a study published in the journal – Science of the Total Environment. It which was carried out by scientists at the United Kingdom Government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture (Cefas) revealed a drop of nearly 30 per cent in plastic bags on Britain’s seabeds – after the introduction of a five pence levy. The analysis was for the period between 1992 and 2017.

After the introduction of a five pence charge in October 2015, the United Kingdom’s seven retailers issued 600 million single use bags – down from 7.6 billion in 2014. England was the last part of the United Kingdom to introduce a levy on plastic shopping bags.  

Labor has said if the Berejiklian Government fails to legislate, a Foley Labor Government will ban them in 2019, if elected.

South Australia (2009), the ACT (2011), the Northern Territory (2011) and Tasmania (2013) all have bans in place. Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria have all indicated that they will act this year.

NSW is the only Australian jurisdiction refusing to move to take action on the single use plastic bag.

In addition, Woolworths, Coles and Harris Farm Markets have agreed to a voluntary ban on plastic bags.

In 2016, Ms Sharpe introduced legislation – Plastic Shopping Bags (Prohibition on Supply by Retailers) Bill – into the NSW Parliament to ban single use plastic bags in NSW. The Sharpe Bill was defeated on October 19, 2017 by the NSW Liberals and Nationals – 20 to 17. At the time, Mr Secord spoke in favour of the ban.

NSW Labor said the environmental impact of plastic bags on the environment are stark. They include:

  • Every second, 159 single-use plastic bags are used in Australia – which is more than 10 million new bags each day;
  • In NSW, up to 61 million bags are littered each year;
  • More than 70 per cent of the rubbish entering our oceans is identified as plastic;
  • The average time a plastic bag is used between the shop and home is 12 minutes before it is discarded;  and
  • Plastic kills up to one million sea birds, countless fish and 100,000 sea mammals each year.

A number of other international jurisdictions have taken steps to ban plastic bags. In 2008 China banned production of ultra-thin bags under 0.025 millimetres thick and ordered supermarkets to stop giving away free carriers. In October last year England introduced a 5 pence minimum charge for single use plastic bags. South Africa has banned plastic bags. Ireland has imposed a plastic bag levy. France banned single‑use plastic bags from supermarkets and small corner stores in 2016, and this year the ban will be extended to single‑use plastic bags used to carry fruit, bread, vegetables, meat and fish. In the United States a large number of individual States have successfully placed a levy or ban on plastic bags.

In South Australia, it is estimated that 400 million fewer plastic bags are used each year since the ban began, while there was a 36 per cent reduction in bags going to landfill in the ACT.

Quotes attributable to Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe 

“I call on the Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton to join the community on this important environmental reform. Make no mistake, action on plastic bags works, it protects the environment. 

“Plastic bags kill thousands of turtles, dolphins, fish, and birds each year. A ban can help stop the carnage. 

“NSW should have been leading the nation in banning single-use plastic bags, but instead the Premier is dragging her feet on this important environmental reform.” 

Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for the North Coast and Deputy Opposition leader in the NSW Legislative Council – Walt Secord 

“The community – especially the North Coast – has spoken and they are ready for action on single use plastic bags. They want a State-ban, but they are puzzled by the priorities of the Berejiklian Government. 

“The whole country – in fact, a large sections of the developed world – are moving to ban single use plastic bags, but still the Liberals and Nationals are moving in another direction. 

“The Premier will spend $2.1 billion on stadiums but they refuse to act on single-use plastic bags.”