Australia has moved a step closer to banning single-use high density polyethylene bags after a meeting of the country's top environment ministers.
Federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg recently met in Sydney with his eight counterparts from all Australian states and territories.
In a joint statement after the meeting, the ministers agreed “Australians consume billions of plastic bags each year and this contributes to the toll plastic litter takes on marine life around Australia.”
Several jurisdictions — South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory — have some bans in place.
Both major political parties in Queensland, the state with Australia's third-highest population, have committed to ban the bags by 2018.
The ministers' support the proposed Queensland ban and “work Victoria and New South Wales [the two most populated states] are doing, including work NSW is doing to investigate the behavior of biodegradable plastic bags in the environment.”
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), a Brisbane-based charity that raises funds to protect marine wildlife, welcomed news of the likely ban in Queensland, which is home to the Great Barrier Reef.
AMCS marine campaigner James Cordwell said: “Plastic pollution travels easily from land to sea. It blows in from bins and garbage dumps, or flows through stormwater drains into our waterways and eventually the sea. Once in the ocean, degradable bags in particular slowly break down into smaller pieces, which are eaten by animals at the bottom of our food chains.
“Larger pieces of plastic floating in our oceans are readily mistaken for food by marine life, such as green sea turtles, and can lead to marine life becoming entangled and strangled or choked and starved.”
Jeff Angel, director of the Sydney-based Total Environment Center and a director of the Boomerang Alliance, which represents a cluster of environmental groups, complained that NSW and Victoria are “throwing up meaningless rhetoric to delay action along the entire east coast.
“While they have been dormant there have been [more than] 1 billion bags littered in the two states, since [the] governments vowed to act in 2007,” he said.
The Boomerang Alliance has asked the ministers to ban all bags up to 70 microns and introduce policies aimed at maximum adoption of reusable shopping bags.
Angel wants all single-use HDPE carry bags banned and no automatic exclusion from the ban for low density PE bags.
A major Australian Senate report, delivered in April, recommended banning lightweight, single-use plastic bags in all states and territories by 2020.