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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp
23 December 2002
Australia should attempt to halve its use of plastic bags by the end of 2004, and substantially increase its rate of recycling the bags, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, said today.
Ministers have challenged retailers to meet 50% recycling and reduction targets for lightweight plastic bags over the next two years. Ministers also are seeking a 90% participation rate of retail chains and 25% participation rate of small retailers in a voluntary National Code of Practice for the Management of Plastic Retail Carry Bags.
"Ministers have also asked industry and the community to work together to cut plastic bags litter by 75 per cent by the end of 2004, which on today's numbers would be a cut of at least 38 million bags," Dr Kemp said.
Dr Kemp congratulated State and Territory Environment Ministers for the national approach they have agreed to take in tackling the problem plastic bags cause for the environment.
Recommendations to Environment Ministers by the National Plastic Bags Working Group through the National Packaging Covenant Council, covered four main areas of concern; littering behaviour, resource efficiency, degradability issues, and community education and awareness.
In responding to those recommendations, Dr Kemp announced a series of key measures to tackle plastic bag waste, beyond the working group's report.
"Research commissioned for the Working Group, including a comprehensive report by consultants Nolan-ITU into the impacts of a plastic bag levy, places the concept firmly on the table," Dr Kemp said.
"Over the next six months, governments will develop a range of legislative options for plastic bags, including what form a possible levy might take.
"In the meantime, we are calling on retailers to set and meet ambitious targets for reducing and recycling plastic bags, and to help change the culture of plastic bags use in the supermarket.
"Governments will review the progress we have made in meeting these targets throughout 2003, before considering whether further steps such as a levy are needed."
The package endorsed by Environment Protection and Heritage Council of State, Territory and Federal Ministers includes:
"The plastic bags problem is first and foremost a problem of litter," Dr Kemp said.
"The challenge for Australia is not the 6.9 billion plastic bags used each year, but the 50 to 80 million that end up as litter. We must stop this incredible number of bags finding their way into the litter stream, where they are lethal to marine and other wildlife.
Marine life, in particular turtles, are prone to mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish, ingesting them and dying of intestinal blockage. The Marine and Coastal Community Network will release in January 2003 a brochure 'Keeping Tabs on Marine Debris' to help community members with beach clean up days.
"According to the Nolan-ITU report, plastic bags appear to make up about 2% of the litter stream by number of items. Of this, about 40 per cent comes from waste management activities and 60 per cent comes from outside the home - from people at picnics, or using takeaway outlets, for example.
"In terms of recycling and general waste management Australia is way ahead of Ireland which this year introduced a levy on plastic bags. Australia has a much higher level of environmental awareness," he said. "We recycle 72 per cent of our newsprint, 65 per cent of our aluminium, nearly half our glass and 16 per cent of our plastic. More than 85 per cent of us have access to kerbside recycling.
"In contrast, the Irish only recycle about 12 per cent of their newsprint, 16 per cent of aluminium, just under a third of their glass and only three per cent of plastic.
"Australians respond well to recycling when they have the facilities to do it, which is why voluntary initiatives are likely to be much more successful here than in some other countries."
Dr Kemp thanked the dozens of small businesses and local councils that responded to his recent call to join Clean Up Australia's Bag Yourself a Better Environment campaign in March.
"I am told by Clean Up Australia that there has been an enthusiastic response from across the nation to the campaign, which will culminate in a month of action in March 2003," Dr Kemp said.
"This shows that retailers and consumers alike are keen to take the initiative on issues like plastic bags, rather than wait for government regulation.
"The month of action will be an excellent opportunity for retailers to put principles into practice and for householders to explore alternatives to plastic bags."
The Working Group report is available online at www.ea.gov.au/industry/waste/ieu/plastic-bags.html and the Nolan ITU report is at www.ea.gov.au/industry/waste/ieu/bags-analysis.html
Catherine Job Dr Kemp's Office (02) 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400
Naomi Dwyer Environment Australia (02) 6274 1015 or 0412 623 238
Third Meeting of the Environment Protection and Heritage Council
23 December 2002
Commonwealth, State and Territory Environment Ministers met today as the Environment Protection and Heritage Council, and agreed to a package of measures to reduce the environmental impacts of plastic bags.
The EPHC had asked the National Packaging Covenant Council to provide specific proposals for national action, including ways of reducing the impact of plastic bags as litter.
Ministers noted the work undertaken by the National Packaging Covenant Council and the National Plastic Bag Working Group in investigating workable approaches to reducing the environmental impacts of plastic bags agreed on a mix of short and longer term actions, rather than a single instrument.
Ministers will ask industry and the community to work together to cut plastic bags litter by 75 per cent by the end of 2004.
To assist the community to achieve these targets, they agreed to the following four critical short term actions:
Ministers noted the success of the Irish levy on plastic shopping bags in decreasing plastic bag consumption but agreed further work was required to clearly define the type of levy appropriate and constitutionally feasible for Australia.
Ministers also asked senior officials to progress a number of other measures including:
Ministers also asked the National Packaging Covenant Council to review and report back to Council on the effectiveness of the agreed measures by December 2003.
Given the overlap between plastic bag and marine pollution issues, Ministers also signalled the release of a brochure 'Keeping Tabs on Marine Debris'.
Marine life, in particular turtles, is prone to mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish, ingesting them and dying of intestinal blockage.
The brochure includes a marine debris survey form to be used by community members helping with beach clean-up days.
The Marine and Coastal Community Network will distribute the brochure nationally from 24 - 31 January 2003.
At the 11 October 2002 Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC) Ministers established an expert working Group to investigate issues associated with plastic bag use in Australia and put forward management options for reducing the impact of plastic carry bags on the environment.
The Working Group found that Australians consume approximately 6.9 billion plastic carry bags a year. They concluded that plastic bags are Australia's highest volume 'add-on' packaging designed as a single use or disposable product and are not necessarily essential to product integrity. Approximately 53% of plastic bags are distributed from supermarket outlets, while 47% come from other retail outlets such as fast food shops, liquor stores, and general merchandising.
After intensive examination of all the issues, the Working Group identified four main areas of concern that it considered should be addressed by a mix of solutions:
The mix of solutions the working group recommended included management options to reduce plastic bag litter, including investigating current and future waste management and landfill management practices with specific nationally consistent guidelines developed to assist landfill operators to minimize off site litter in a variety of locations and circumstances. The Group also recommended that active support be given to current consumer awareness and anti-litter programs, with the effectiveness of the current programs examined, and proposal developed for a coordinated national anti littering and consumer awareness campaign.
Management options were also recommended to reduce, recycle and reuse plastic carry bags. These included the adoption and implementation by all retailers of a National Code of Practice for Management of Plastic Retail Carry Bags with defined targets and a comprehensive reporting system.
In parallel with the development of the Code, the Working Group recommended that a proposal for the introduction of a levy on plastic bags also be developed, which sets out an implementation process and includes a full impact assessment as required by the Council of Australian Governments.
To promote an increase in recycling, the Working Group recommended the National Packaging Covenant Council proceeds with its program to 'close the recycling loop' for plastic bags. This is to include investigation and development of mechanisms to improve the in-store recycling rate and encourage the development of markets for the reprocessed resin, particularly the use of recycled resin in plastic carry bag production.
The Working Group, cognizant of the divergent views and experiences with degradable plastics, recommended that Standards Australia commence the development of a national standard for degradable plastics. The Working Group also recommended that a comprehensive study on the full impact of introducing degradable bags into the Australian marketplace, including the effect on plastic recycling, local manufacturing, and landfills, be undertaken as a matter of priority.
Overall, after investigating all the issues associated with the use and impact of plastic bags and their alternatives, the Plastic Bags Working Group recommended that a range of short and long term complementary initiatives be undertaken, rather than one approach in isolation. Any program designed to reduce plastic bag use and eliminate litter must include a mix of approaches.
The National Code of Practice for the Management of Plastic Retail Carry Bags is a voluntary initiative that is currently being finalised by retailer signatories to the National Packaging Covenant.
When finalised in April 2003, the signatories will undertake to abide by the Code and will actively encourage all other retailers to participate. The Code will have an overall goal of reducing the amount of plastic carry bags handed out, encouraging their re-use and recycling and supporting the development and promotion of alternatives.
Initiatives that are to be undertaken by supermarkets in the next few months, include:
Major supermarket chains, including Coles and Woolworths, are also participating in the Clean Up Australia Bag Yourself a Better Environment campaign, which will take place from 3 March to 28 March 2003. This consumer awareness campaign will encourage consumers to reduce plastic bag use and undertake litter abatement. Further information can be downloaded from www.cleanup.com.au.