Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 10 Hansard (Thursday, 20 September 2018) . . Page.. 3941 ..
Members would be aware that the ACT government has had legislation governing the use of plastic bags in the ACT since 2010: the Plastic Shopping Bags Ban Act 2010. This legislation came about as a result of an item in the 2008 Labor-Greens parliamentary agreement. The plastic bag ban legislation came into effect on 1 November 2011.
The government had undertaken two previous internal reviews of the impacts of the legislation—in 2012 and 2014—including examining the reduction of levels of plastic waste to landfill, and the reduction of plastic litter in our environment. These previous internal reviews had found that the legislation has been very effective in reducing plastic bag consumption and associated litter.
However, since the introduction of the 2010 legislation plastic bag manufacturers were quick to ensure that they were able to offer bags to retailers just over the 35-micron minimum limit to retailers. As a consequence I was concerned that many retailers and customers may not have changed their behaviour around the use of plastic bags and were instead simply using thicker plastic bags for single uses.
I had considered a number of options, such as whether it would be better to again increase the minimum thickness of plastic shopping bags to encourage numerous reuses of the bags or whether it would instead be better to require the use of biodegradable or compostable bags. Another concern I continue to have is the use of plastic bags that degrade into microplastic pieces thus creating further environmental pollution and biodiversity impacts.
However, in relation to the overall policy of what type of plastic shopping bags are best made available by retailers, there was no clear advice available to enable me as the responsible minister to best analyse how this legislation could be improved for environmental outcomes. Determining how to make the act more effective was my brief for the commissioner for this 2018 independent review.
This review has highlighted the complexity of plastic bag regulation and the environmental performance of plastic bags and reflects on the current context of plastic bag regulation nationally and globally. Although plastic bags are a small proportion of our waste and litter streams, we cannot ignore the importance of setting behavioural change and, of course, the impacts this has on people in coastal towns in particular.
I am sure that members are aware of the huge impacts that plastics are having on our planet. Plastic pollution is at an unprecedented high. Scientists predict that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. There are islands of plastic in the ocean, and the great Pacific garbage patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world of the five offshore plastic accumulation zones.
This massive floating island of plastic growing rapidly between California and Hawaii now covers 1.6 million square kilometres—that is around three times the size of France. The giant accumulation of plastic contains more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, a plastic count equivalent to 250 pieces of debris for every human in the world.