Plastic bags

Close-up of a man holding plastic supermarket bags filled with groceries

In early 2018, China introduced new trade measures that restricted the amount of contaminated recycling that they would accept for processing. Even though we process most of our own recyclable materials here in Victoria, we are still affected by changes to global commodity markets. A $13 million fund was established in response to the announcement to help councils and industry deal with the kerbside recycling following the ban.

In June 2018, the Victorian Government recently announced the next steps towards a legislative ban on lightweight single use plastic bags.

Following three months of public consultation in 2017–18 on plastic pollution, a three-step plan to reduce the impacts of plastics on the environment was developed.

  • Step 1 – In 2018, the Victorian Government will begin educating retailers and the community about plastic pollution and how to use fewer plastic bags. This will ensure the ban, once introduced, will be as effective as possible.
  • Step 2 – Over the next 12 months, the Victorian Government will develop a plan to reduce other types of plastic pollution in our environment. A reference group of government, industry, retail and community group representatives will be established to help develop a plastic pollution plan and advise the government on how we will tackle other types of plastic pollution.
  • Step 3 – A legislative ban on lightweight, single-use plastic bags will begin from end 2019. 

The facts about plastic bags

Australians use around 10 million plastic bags every day – an astonishing 4 billion every year. Of these, approximately 150 million end up in our oceans and waterways, contributing to an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped into the ocean every year. These plastic bags fill our landfill, harm our wildlife, and break up into smaller and smaller fragments that continue to cause environmental harm. Most Victorian council kerbside recycling bins do not accept plastic bags, and only 3 per cent of Australia's plastic bags are currently being recycled.

The alternatives to plastic bags

There are lots of alternatives to single-use plastic bags that are compact and easy to carry. They are readily available and often look much prettier. Most stores and supermarkets also offer alternatives at the checkout, including cloth and string bags if you've forgotten to bring your own. To ensure you're reusing the cloth bags you already have, rather than buying more, keep some in your car and carry one with you.

While it would be far better to eliminate plastic bags from the waste chain, soft plastics – including plastic bags – can be recycled at many supermarkets through the REDcycle program.

What can you do about plastic bags?

Say no to plastic bags

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Do you really need all those plastic bags? Wherever possible, it's important to avoid them: in supermarkets, other shops and at home. Remember to say 'no bag please', just as you would say 'no straws please' in bars and restaurants. Better than reusing or recycling is reducing the amount of plastic bags we produce and use in the first place.

Carry a reusable bag with you

Wherever possible, use bags you already have at home – such as backpacks or cloth bags – for your shopping. Keep some in your car and carry one with you so you never need to take a single-use plastic bag. Reusable cloth bags such as cotton, calico or bamboo are a more sustainable choice because they are made from natural fibres. You could even get creative and make your own reusable bags from old clothes and material.

Use reusable packaging

Sandwich bags, freezer bags, garbage bags and so on. With so much plastic in our world do we really need to buy more? Try substituting a glass instead of plastic container for your leftovers and, when the odd plastic bag finds its way into your life, use it as a bin liner. If you must buy plastic bags, buy those made from recycled plastic, and remember to put your kerbside recycling out loose. There are also many ways to avoid food packaging when you shop for food.

Recycle plastic bags and soft plastics

As a last resort, if you cannot avoid or reuse your soft plastics, they can be recycled at many supermarkets through the REDcycle program.

Learn more about REDcycle

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