Wildlife-friendly alternatives to single-use plastic bags

Last updated: 4 December 2020

In the past, Australians use up to 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% of Australia's plastic bags are currently being recycled.

Reusable bags

Wherever possible, use bags you already have at home such as backpacks or cloth bags for your shopping. Keep them handy so that 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.

Get used to saying a simple 'No bag please' at the checkout and have your reusable bag ready.

Aim to build better bag habits and refuse single-use plastics wherever you can.

Better bag habits

With better bag habits, remembering your reusable bags will become second nature. Before you leave home, don’t forget ‘Bag, wallet keys and phone'.

  • Everyone forgets sometimes, so make it easy on yourself and, keep some in your car, by the front door or stashed at work so that you always have reusable bags on standby. Get into the habit of returning bags to your stash spots once you have emptied the shopping, so that they will be there for next time.
  • Lightweight and compact nylon bags are widely available from major supermarkets, homewares stores and online retailers. Many major retailers sell reusable canvas shopping bags, so bring a bag for life, not for a single use.
  • Foldable cloth or nylon bags are around the size of a wallet when folded so they are easy to keep on you, in your handbag or backpack at all times for spontaneous shopping.
  • Most stores and supermarkets also offer alternatives at the checkout for a small fee, including cloth and string bags if you've forgotten to bring your own. Remembering your bags will save you from buying new ones and save you money in the long term.
Thumbs-down for plastic bags
Thumbs-up for reusable bags

Recycling plastic bags and soft plastics

It is really important to keep soft plastic bags OUT of your kerbside recycling bin.

Soft plastics are the number one contaminant of recycling, so make sure you don’t put your paper or other kerbside recycling into plastic bags.

Recycling requirements vary across Victoria, so check your local council to make sure you recycle right in your area.

Soft plastics including plastic shopping bags, can be recycled at many supermarkets through the REDcycle program.

Reduce single-use plastics

While you are at it, try refusing and reducing other single-use plastic, like sandwich bags, freezer bags and garbage bags.

Try substituting a glass instead of plastic container for your leftovers and wrap food scraps in a sheet of newspaper. One newspaper is much cheaper than a packet of plastic bags.

Use your influence as a consumer and choose more sustainable packaging when shopping.

Plastic bag ban

In 2017–18, the Victorian Government received more than 8000 submissions to a public consultation on plastic pollution.

These responses led to a ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags from 1 November 2019. A supporting ban will prioritise reducing other types of plastic pollution.

Plastic shopping bags with a thickness of 35 microns or less are banned. These include degradable, biodegradable and compostable plastic shopping bags.