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.