ABOUT THE BAN

Over 670 million plastic bags are used in Western Australia every year, with approximately 7 million ending up in the environment as litter.

In addition, less than 2% of lightweight plastic bags are recycled with the majority piling up in landfill, potentially lasting thousands of years.

The WA bag ban will affect all retailers that currently use some form of lightweight plastic shopping bag – from grocery stores to fashion boutiques, from convenience stores to fast food outlets, from mine canteens to markets.

The National Retail Association has partnered with the Western Australian Government to help retailers navigate the new compliance issues, find alternative bag solutions and manage customer sentiment to ultimately minimise negative impacts on your business.

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The Bag Ban Explained

In summary, the Western Australian Government will implement a state-wide ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags from 1 July 2018.

 

Click on the arrow to see each answer.

When does the bag ban come into effect?

The WA plastic bag ban will come into effect on 1 July 2018.

From 1 July 2018 it will be illegal for any person to provide false or misleading information about a banned bag.

Retailers will have until 31 December 2018 to phase out their existing stocks of banned bags and may face fines if they supply banned bags after this date.

The NRA believes that retailers should consider exhausting all banned bags by 1 July 2018 to align with national initiatives and to avoid customer confusion or backlash.

What is the actual legislation?

The Western Australian Government has passed the Environmental Protection (Plastic Bags) Regulations 2018.

Within these regulations, it is an offence to supply a prescribed plastic bag as follows:

From 1 July 2018 a person who supplies or manufactures prescribed plastic bags must not give any information that the person knows is false or misleading to another person about —

  1. the composition of a prescribed plastic bag; or
  2. whether or not a plastic bag is a prescribed plastic bag.

Penalty: a fine of $5 000.

From 1 January 2019 a retailer must not supply a prescribed plastic bag to a person for the person to carry goods sold by the retailer.

Penalty: a fine of $5000.

Definitions of terms:

  • barrier bag means a plastic bag without handles used to carry unpackaged perishable food;
  • prescribed plastic bag
    (a) means a bag that is —
      (i) made in whole or in part of plastic; and
      (ii) has handles; and
      (iii) has a thickness of 35 microns or less;
    but
    (b) does not include a bag that is —
      (i) a barrier bag; or
      (ii) a plastic bag that is, or is an integral part of, the packaging in which goods are sealed for sale; or
      (iii) a plastic bag provided by a medical care provider to a person receiving services from that medical care provider;
  • retailer means a person who sells goods in trade or commerce;
  • supply includes sell, provide and make available.

See the full legislation >

What bags are banned?

The ban will apply to all lightweight plastic bags with handles which are 35 microns or less thick, including degradable, biodegradable and compostable bags.

What bags are allowed?

The ban will not apply to the following bags:

  • barrier bags for perishable unpackaged foodstuffs (typically used for meat and vegetables)
  • heavyweight reusable plastic bags (such as those used by department stores)
  • bags that are integral to a product’s packaging (such as a bread bag or ice bag)
  • fabric or hessian bags
  • paper or cardboard bags

Bin-liners, nappy bags, and 'dog poo' bags are not included in the ban when used for their intended purpose but cannot be used as a substitute for a shopping bag.

Sealed product packaging is also excluded from the ban.

Why are biodegradable bags banned?

Recent studies suggest that degradable bags only break up into smaller pieces of plastic (microplastics) and can be eaten by animals. These microplastics cause severe damage to animals and some ultimately end up in the human food chain.

Biodegradable and compostable bags persist in the environment for long periods and do not break down in temperatures below 50 degrees.

Read more about the Government's decision to include these bags in the ban in the Discussion Paper >

 

Please note that biodegradable bags 35 microns or less that are allowed in other states, such as South Australia, will not be allowed in Western Australia.

Who does the ban apply to?

The ban applies to all retailers - defined as any person who sells goods in trade or commerce.

This includes supermarkets, department stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, fast food outlets, markets, mine catering companies, charity shops... and many other businesses.

The legislation also prohibits any person (such as a supplier or manufacturer) from providing false or misleading information about whether a bag is compliant.

What are the penalties if we don't comply?

To ensure that all retailers are on an even playing field, and that real change is accomplished, fines will apply.

Suppliers/Manufacturers

Any person who supplies or manufacturers plastic bags must not provide false or misleading information about the composition of a banned bag or whether a bag is banned. Fines of $5000 per offence apply from 1 July 2018.

Retailers

A retailer must not supply a banned bag to customers to carry goods. Fines of $5000 per offence apply from 1 January 2019.

In addition, retailers who ignore the bag ban may suffer consumer boycotts or media criticism.

How do I know if my bags are banned?

The ban will apply to all lightweight plastic bags with handles which are 35 microns or less thick, including degradable, biodegradable and compostable bags.

Ask your bag supplier to provide evidence of the thickness (microns or ‘um’) of your bags.

 

Even if your bags are technically compliant you may want to consider alternative options. 

Read more about the risks of using 'barely-compliant' bags >

Do we need to provide a bag?

You are not required to provide customers with a bag.

The bag ban presents an opportunity to assess whether you really need to offer bags at all.

Retailers should consider whether a bag is necessary, or whether to charge a small fee for alternative bags.

Can we use recycled banned bags?

No, retailers cannot supply banned bags to customers, regardless of whether they are new or reused.

For example, community organisations, charity stores and market stallholders should start to phase out these banned bags as it will be illegal to supply them.

What bags should I avoid?

The NRA recommends that retailers avoid 'barely-compliant' bags. Retailers who use plastic shopping bags that look and feel like banned bags, such as 36-40 micron singlet bags, (and suppliers who promote them) are exposed to substantial risks:

  • inconsistent micron measurement
  • future adaptations of the ban
  • consumer perceptions
  • willingness to pay

Read more about these risks >

 

How will the ban be enforced?

At this stage it is envisaged that there will be both government enforcement and community-led feedback mechanisms in place.

What should we do with leftover banned bags?

All retailers and suppliers should try to reduce stocks of banned bags as quickly as possible as compensation will not be provided for unused stock.

It is important to note that suppliers face fines for providing false or misleading information about banned bags from 1 July 2018.

Retailers must phase out existing stock of banned bags and can be fined from 1 January 2019.

 

If you are left with unused stock at the ban deadline, you can recycle soft plastics at a local recycler like REDcycle or you may be able to sell or exchange product with counterparts in jurisdictions where bag bans are not in place.

Contact your local council to find out more about recycling facilities near you.

Background to the ban

The aim of the Western Australian bag ban is to reduce the number of lightweight plastic bags that are littered, and the associated environmental impacts of this source of plastic pollution.

 

The following information is adapted from the Implementing a lightweight single-use plastic bag ban in Western Australia Discussion Paper, published by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation.

Click on the arrow to see each answer.

The size of the problem

In 2007, Australian lightweight single-use plastic bag consumption was estimated to be around 3.9 billion, [1] or 184 bags per person [2].

Plastic bags make up a small percentage of the waste and litter streams but they have disproportionate impacts on the environment, particularly marine wildlife.

Around 670 million lightweight plastic bags are used in Western Australia every year. While most plastic bags end up in landfill, the Keep Australia Beautiful Council estimates that one to two per cent are littered [5] – which suggests that almost seven million plastic bags enter the Western Australian environment each year.

The impact of lightweight plastic bags

In Australia and internationally, there is increasing evidence of the cumulative impact that plastic has on soils, waterways, marine environments and fauna.

Under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, marine debris is recognised as a ‘key threatening process’ that ‘threatens or may threaten the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or ecological community’.

Reducing the number of plastic bags used is an important measure to reduce the amount of plastic entering our environment.

These bags have an average useful life of 12 minutes – or the time it takes to transport purchased items home from where they are bought. Even if they are reused once, for example as a bin-liner, these bags are then discarded and enter the waste stream.

The litter problem

Around 360 million lightweight plastic shopping bags are used annually in Western Australia.

While most plastic bags end up in landfill, the Keep Australia Beautiful Council estimates that one to two per cent are littered [5] – which suggests that almost five million plastic bags enter the Western Australian environment each year.

Not all litter is deliberate. An estimated 47 per cent of wind-borne litter escaping from landfills is plastic, with the majority of this being plastic bags [6]. Lightweight flexible plastics are highly mobile and easily blown from areas on land into waterways and
the ocean.

Many plastic bags are used away from the usual supermarket-to-home route. Plastic bag litter is associated with purchases consumed away from home, such as takeaway food and drink.

Inappropriate disposal of rubbish away from home can lead to lightweight plastic bags becoming litter in the marine environment.

As well as the impact on wildlife, plastic bags are unsightly in the environment, creating visual pollution.

Impact on the marine environment

All plastics, including plastic bags, are persistent in the environment.

Plastic bags are particularly attractive to marine wildlife as they look similar to jellyfish, a preferred food of seabirds, turtles, sharks, and fish. Once ingested, a plastic bag does not breakdown and can block the intestinal tract of the animal consuming it, causing the animal to die of starvation. They also fill with air meaning the animal cannot dive to escape collisions or predators.

For smaller animals the impact is primarily due to entanglement. Animals become tangled or stuck in plastic bags and drown because they cannot free themselves.

Since 2003, the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 has listed ‘injury and fatality to vertebrate marine life caused by ingestion of, or entanglement in, harmful marine debris’ as a key threatening process [7].

Globally the impact of plastics on the marine environment is significant. It is estimated that one million seabirds and over 100,000 mammals die every year as a result of plastic ingestion or entanglement. The 2014 CSIRO Marine Debris Report found that approximately three-quarters of the rubbish along the Australian coastline was plastic.

In coastal and offshore waters, most floating debris is plastic. The density of plastic
in oceans ranges from a few thousand pieces of plastic per square kilometre to more than 40,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre. Debris is more highly concentrated around major cities,[8] suggesting that the majority of litter in Australian waters comes from Australian consumers and industries.

Plastics do not biodegrade – they break down into small fragments and create microplastics. As plastics break down into smaller and smaller fragments, they can be ingested by lower order marine animals, which in turn are eaten by larger fish.

Persistent organic pollutants found in the ocean adsorb onto plastics and micro-plastics. Concentrations of persistent organic pollutants on microplastic particles are several orders of magnitude higher than the surrounding seawater. If ingested by marine species they present a potential route for these chemicals to enter the
human food chain [9].

A Senate inquiry into the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia and Australian waters found there were few estimates of costs of marine plastic pollution available, and noted the Asia‑Pacific Economic Cooperation estimated cost of ocean plastics to the tourism, fishing and shipping industries was $1.3 billion in our region [10].

Bag bans around the world

Government-led changes to reduce plastic bag consumption and litter are common internationally. Bans and levies are the most popular methods for plastic bag reduction globally.

Map of international action >

Australia's response

In 2003, the Australian Environment Protection and Heritage Council committed to phasing out lightweight, single-use plastic bags by 1 January 2009. It reaffirmed this commitment in June 2007.

As states and territories and the Commonwealth were not able to agree on a national approach, there had been no coordinated national approach to plastic bags since 2007. States began implementing their own bans and South Australia was the first to do so in 2009.

By July 2018, most Australian states and territories will have banned lightweight single-use plastic bags. South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory already have plastic bag bans in place, and Queensland will ban lightweight single-use plastic bags from 1 July 2018. The Victorian Government has commenced community consultation for a lightweight single-use shopping bag ban.

Nationally, major retailers agreed to a voluntary Plastic Shopping Bag Code of Practice in 2002 to reduce plastic shopping bag use by 50 per cent.

The code operated from 2003 to 2005 and led to a 45 per cent reduction of plastic bags issued by supermarkets at the time. Since the end of the code in 2005, the number of plastic bags used has increased, and continues to rise. Nevertheless, the results of the code demonstrate the effectiveness of intervention strategies (voluntary or mandatory) in affecting behaviour change at the point of sale.

More recently, national retailers Coles, Woolworths and IGA committed to ban lightweight single-use plastic bags from their stores by 1 July 2018, while Bunnings and Aldi have already phased out the use of lightweight single-use plastic bags.

Consumer support for a ban

Community support for action on plastic bags has been growing as people increasingly understand the environmental impacts of plastic waste and the need to stop millions of bags entering the waste stream every year.

Public campaigns such as #banthebag and ABC’s television show, War on Waste, have raised awareness and generated significant public support for a ban on lightweight single-use plastic bags.

A survey of Western Australian households conducted in November 2017 [11] found that:

  • 95% of respondents were concerned about the impacts of plastics on waterways, oceans, wildlife and landfill sites;
  • 77% used alternatives to lightweight single-use plastic bags at least some of the time;
  • 84% supported a ban on lightweight single-use plastic bags; and
  • 85% supported extending that ban to include biodegradable and compostable lightweight bags.

A number of Western Australian local governments have moved to ban lightweight, single-use plastic bags under local laws. A survey of local governments by the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) found widespread support for a statewide ban on plastic bags. WALGA has since passed a resolution in support of a Western Australian ban [12].

The biodegradable bag issue

The names used for some bio-plastic products available in the Australian plastics market suggest that these products are an environmentally beneficial alternative to traditional plastics.

It is the opinion of the WA Government that biodegradable plastics cannot be distinguished from conventional plastics by non-experts and the lack of standardised labelling and regulation on products has led to confusion by consumers, recyclers, composters and local governments.

This adversely influences purchases, separation, collection and recovery of bag products. A biodegradable product is one that is capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms and thereby avoiding pollution [13]. However, bags marketed as biodegradable and compostable do not readily break down in the environment or in domestic composting units – they require a commercial composting facility in order to fully decompose.

Many lightweight plastic bags are also marketed as degradable or oxo-degradable bags, but these are not biodegradable. Degradable plastic is a term for a polymer that will break down into smaller parts or pieces (to the extent that they are not readily seen), creating microplastic pollution. Oxo-degradable plastic includes conventional plastic that contains an additive to induce breakdown under favourable conditions (such as when oxygen and sunlight are present). Like degradable plastics, these bags create microplastic pollution.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) there is little evidence to suggest that products labelled as biodegradable will significantly decrease the volume of plastic entering the ocean, or the physical and chemical risks that plastics pose to the marine environment [14]. The Australian Bioplastics Association also stated that “biodegradable plastics were not designed to be a solution for marine litter” [15].

While there has been considerable research into biodegradable plastics, studies have shown that there is no significant difference between standard and degradable plastics in the environment or when they are ingested by wildlife.

Given that the impacts on the environment and on wildlife are unlikely to be improved by a switch to degradable, biodegradable and compostable plastics, the Western Australian Government has included biodegradable, degradable and compostable plastic bags in their ban.

SOURCES

Sources
from: Implementing a lightweight single-use plastic bag ban in Western Australia Discussion Paper

  1. Cain, R., Oke, M. Hyder (2008) Plastic Retail Carry Bag Use, 2006 and 2007 Consumption Hyder Consulting, Environment Protection and Heritage Council.
  2. 2007 population of Australia was 21,181,000. ABS.
  3. O’Farrell, K. Envisage Works (2017) Personal communication (email) 27 November.
  4. 2017 population of Western Australia was 2.576 million. ABS.
  5. Keep Australia Beautiful Council, (2014). National Litter Index 2013/14.
  6. Environment Protection and Heritage Council (2002) Plastic Bags in Australia – National Plastic Bags Working Group Report to the National Packaging Covenant Council. Available online.
  7. Department of Environment and Energy (2017) (Draft) Threat Abatement Plan for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine life. Australian Government. Available online.
  8. Hardesty, BD, C Wilcox, TJ Lawson, M Lansdell and T van der Velde (2014) Understanding the effects of marine debris on wildlife. Final Report to Earthwatch Australia. Available online.
  9. Andrady, A. (2011) Microplastics in the marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin (62) pp1596-1605. Available online.
  10. The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee (2016) Toxic tide: the threat of marine plastic. Commonwealth of Australia. Report – Parliament of Australia.
  11. Boomerang Alliance (2017) Western Australian Households Views on Plastic Waste 2017, Unpublished report prepared for the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation.
  12. WALGA, Media (06 July 2017) Local Government Says: Ban the Bag. Available online.
  13. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/biodegradable
  14. Kershaw, P.J. (2015) Biodegradable plastics and marine litter – misconceptions, concerns and impacts on marine environments. Report
    produced for the Global Partnership on Marine Litter by the United Nations Environment Programme.
  15. https://www.bioplastics.org.au/biodegradable-plastics-not-designed-solution-marine-litter/

Please note: the advice provided on this website is designed to assist retailers in understanding the ban and weighing up options but is by no means exhaustive. Each retail business should assess and make decisions based on their own advice and situation.