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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 10 Hansard (Thursday, 20 September 2018) . . Page.. 3942 ..


There is much confusion in the community locally and nationally about the merits of biodegradable and compostable plastic bags which I and many others share. Other states are now proposing to also ban biodegradable bags as they, as evidenced in this report today, unfortunately have poor environmental results.

What is clear from this report is that every alternative to plastic bags has its own implications in respect of carbon emissions, energy and water use, as well as litter and waste creation. Arguably, plastics are emerging as the hazardous waste of this century. It is generally accepted that we cannot continue to use and dispose of plastics in our current manner without serious consequences.

I will now outline the review’s findings. This review has highlighted the relative absence of information at a local and national level on bag consumption and trends. With this in mind, the commissioner and her team went to commendable lengths to gather data from both ACT residents and retailers. Approaches included a telephone survey of over 1,000 residents about their views and behaviours in relation to the act; a face-to-face survey of householders as they conducted their shopping; and a face-to-face survey with retailers about their plastic bag consumption.

The review estimates that the ban has successfully reduced our plastic bag use by 1,132 tonnes of plastic from 2011 to 2018 and 55 million plastic bags in 2017-18 alone. However, projections show that without further intervention, by 2021 plastic bag consumption will return to levels seen prior to the ban’s introduction in 2011.

The ACT community was surveyed for this review and indicated a strong support for the ban: 68 per cent of respondents said they support the ban, up from 50 per cent in 2012; 57 per cent said they have reduced their plastic bag use as a consequence of the ban; 68 per cent said they take reusable bags always or most of the time when they go shopping; and 69 per cent believe that the ban has had a positive impact on the environment. There is a high level of support in the community to try to do better, with 64 per cent supporting further policy change.

Key challenges that consistently arose when interpreting the results are that the environmental problem of plastic bags in the ACT is not the same as for those coastal towns and cities that have obvious marine litter issues. We do not have a huge litter problem, and plastic bags are a small proportion of our litter stream. However, regardless of the fate of our plastic bags, the persistence of plastics in the environment for hundreds of years is not acceptable.

The second key challenge is the lack of data on plastic bag consumption. Trends limit the ability to inform analysis effectively. This challenge is not unique to the ACT; retailers are reluctant to provide data on plastic bag consumption claiming commercial-in-confidence concerns. Whilst the survey has filled some of this gap, data on bag consumption trends over time is needed to facilitate effective assessment and intervention. This needs to be addressed locally and potentially nationally.

The community was surveyed on their views of these reform options and it showed some interesting results, including that people are generally not willing to pay for


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