: Update from the ACT

Update from the ACT

Anne Macduff

The ACT has recently introduced legislation to restrict the supply of plastic shopping bags. From 1 November 2011, the Plastic Shopping Bags Ban Act 2010 (ACT) prevents ACT retailers from supplying certain types of plastic bags to consumers. Retailers who contravene the Act risk fines of up to $5500 (for an individual) and $27 500 (for a corporation). The Act specifically restricts supply of lightweight plastic carry bags with a thickness less than 35 microns. These plastic bags are traditionally supplied by supermarkets and grocery stores. There are a number of exceptions to the plastic shopping bag ban. Retailers can supply plastic bags less than 35 microns thick if they are either ‘barrier bags’ of the kind used for fruit and vegetable or are considered ‘biodegradable’. The Act does not affect the sale of bin-liners or apply to thicker plastic bags.

The ACT government has stated that the purpose of the legislation is to reduce the amount of plastic bags that end up in ACT landfill. In the medium to long term, restricting the supply of plastics bags that take longer to decompose is likely to reduce the volume of plastic bag waste in landfill. However, the legislation clearly falls short of broader environmental goals. It fails to create incentives for change in patterns of behavior regarding the quantity of plastic bags being used and discarded by consumers. Moreover, simply exchanging plastic bags for biodegradable plastic bags does not address other environmental hazards. Even a small amount of biodegradable plastic bag, if accidentally ingested, injures wildlife and allows various chemicals to enter the food-chain.

It is too soon to tell whether the alternative products used by ACT consumers as a result of the legislation will be better for the environment. However the ‘plastic bag ban’ may raise awareness of environmental and waste issues in the ACT.

The ACT government plans to review the legislation after it has been in operation for two years.

ANNE MacDUFF teaches law at the Australian National University.

(2012) 37(1) AltLJ 61
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