Opinion: A plastic bag free world shouldn’t be trashed

I’m old enough to remember the brown paper bags used for packing groceries when you went to the supermarket.

They’re long gone in the modern day era of the plastic bag. Woolworths estimates it gives out more than 3.2 billion of them a year. Plastic bags were ranked in the top 10 of rubbish items collected on Clean Up Australia Day last year. So it’s no surprise things are about to change again.

Woolworths and Coles recently announced their stores will stop offering regular plastic bags by June 30 next year. Customers will be able to buy a more durable bag at 15 cents each, or bring their own. Harris Farm will stop all supply of plastic bags from January 1 next year and will bring back free paper bags and cardboard boxes.

So will it be an inconvenience?

Only if you make it out to be. Plastic bag bans are already enforced in South Australia, ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania. Queensland will follow suit next year. Some cities even have bans, like Fremantle, along with Huskisson and Kangaroo Valley in NSW. Target enforced a plastic bag fee for several years, which didn’t bother me. Often I didn’t need the bag for my purchases but when I did, I didn’t care being charged 10 cents for the privilege.

Australians throw away more than 7000 plastic bags per minute, according to Plastic Bag Free NSW. I always accumulate far more plastic bags than what I reuse them for. There should be an onus on supermarkets to train checkout staff to not be so wasteful with plastic bags. At the checkout of my weekly shop, my groceries always end up in more plastic bags than should have been used. If I buy a 600 millilitre bottle of drink, that usually gets its own bag.

Western Sydney councils could take a leaf out of the book of Inner West Council, which supports the Plastic Bag Free NSW campaign. The NSW government has also been surprisingly relatively quiet on the issue, which was debated in parliament last week following the presentation of a petition signed by 12,472 people. A Omnipoll survey conducted last month shows 64 per cent of NSW residents support a total ban on single use plastic bags at supermarkets and stores. It’s a promising sign it’s not just me who’s ready and willing to change their behaviour.

A plastic bag ban isn’t the end of the world.

It’s a small way towards making a big difference.

  • Kylie Stevens is the senior reporter for the Sydney north west region.