An alliance of 48 environmental groups has written to all environment ministers around Australia asking them to ban plastic bags when they meet next month.
Federal environment minister Greg Hunt and his eight state and territory counterparts will meet in Melbourne on 15 December to discuss a range of environmental issues, including research work conducted by the office of Mark Speakman, environment minister for the state of New South Wales, into initiatives to reduce the amount of plastic waste, including potential bans on plastic shopping bags.
Hunt's spokesman said the environment ministers, at their last meeting in February, agreed to NSW investigating “practical solutions for the phase-down of lightweight plastic bags.”
The Boomerang Alliance, led by Jeff Angel, director of the Sydney-based Total Environment Centre, has asked the ministers to ban all bags up to 70 microns and introduce policies aimed at maximum adoption of reusable bags for shopping.
Angel estimates Australian plastic bag use will exceed nine billion this year, including more than four billion single-use supermarket carry bags.
Boomerang Alliance has asked the ministers to implement a range of actions, including banning single-use high density polyethylene carry bags and not automatically excluding low density PE carry bags from any ban.
Angel said LDPE bags should be included in bans but case-by-case exemptions allowed if retailers can demonstrate effective management and/or minimal risk of the bags reaching the marine environment.
The alliance is sceptical about oxo-biodegradable and bioplastic bags. The letter to ministers said: “While they offer some limited environmental resource benefit, using an oxo-degradable bag is as bad as a traditional HDPE bag in terms of litter and marine impacts. Until these options can provide proven benefit, they should be treated like any other plastic.”
The alliance acknowledged banning single-use “non-carry” bags, for example, ice bags and sandwich, storage and freezer bags, is “more complex than eliminating plastic carry bags”, but its letter asks for “appropriate regulatory action.”
The alliance also wants bags to be clear or dark coloured only and unbranded.
“Colouring plastic film integrates more toxic additives and makes the bags more likely to be ingested,” its letter said.
It cited a 2014 study by the University of Tasmania of necropsies of 171 shearwater sea birds that found of 1,032 pieces of plastic in their gullets, just 0.87% was clear plastic, compared to 62% light-coloured plastic, 22% medium colours and 14% dark colours.
Angel said: “Plastic pollution is a major threat to wildlife. Globally it is estimated one million sea birds and [more than] 100,000 mammals die every year [from] plastic ingestion or entanglement. Of great concern are secondary microplastics derived from broken up bags and bottles.”
Hunt's spokesman would not elaborate on the agenda for the ministers' meeting, but said: “Minister Hunt is supportive of the work being led by NSW and encourages businesses and members of the community to engage in any of the processes being run by NSW to ensure a suitable solution can be found for all parties. The states and territories have shown a willingness to work together to have approaches in place that are complementary.”
Boomerang Alliance acknowledged that two states, South Australia and Tasmania, and two territories, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, have taken some ban actions against plastic bags, but said voluntary programs are “incapable of resolving the issue and a levy is too complex and administratively inefficient.”