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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

23 May 2003

Retailers Must Toughen Stance on Plastic Bags


The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today announced environment ministers have agreed in principle to pursue nationally coordinated mandatory measures on plastic shopping bags at their July meeting.

Dr Kemp said ministers meeting at the Environment Protection and Heritage Council in Melbourne today rejected a draft industry Code of Practice for the Management of Plastic Retail Carry Bags because it failed to address targets on usage set last December.

Environment ministers had challenged retailers to meet 50% recycling and reduction targets for lightweight plastic bags by the end of 2004. Meeting these targets would take about 4.5 billion bags out of circulation.

"Australians currently use more than 6.9 billion plastic bags annually and litter of plastic bags pose a significant environmental problem that must be addressed. We aim to reduce plastic bag litter by 75% by the end of next year," Dr Kemp said.

"To achieve this, we need a strong commitment from industry and the community to substantially reduce the number of bags used and ensure the bags handed out at the point of sale do not end up polluting our parks and waterways."

Dr Kemp said he was disappointed the draft Code from the retailers had thus far failed to address the problem of usage.

"I will write to the chief executive officers of major retailers asking them to personally address the challenges posed by all of the targets for plastic shopping bags," he said. (letter attached).

Meanwhile, EPHC ministers deferred consideration of proposals to expand Container Deposit Legislation (CDL) across Australia until after the National Packaging Covenant expires in August 2004.

"Ministers have reaffirmed their commitment to the Covenant as the main national mechanism for managing packaging waste and will wait until after it has been evaluated before considering alternative packaging waste proposals," Dr Kemp said.

Media Contact:
Catherine Job 02 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400


23 May, 2003

Mr Russell Zimmerman
President
Australian Retailers Association
Level 1, 20 York Street
SYDNEY NSW 2000

Dear Mr Zimmerman

I am writing as Chair of the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC) to advise you of EPHC’s views on the draft Retail Industry National Code of Practice for the Management of Retail Carry Bag Litter.

I should firstly confirm our understanding that time constraints prevented the Australian Retailers Association from obtaining final clearance on the draft Code by the National Packaging Covenant Council, but that your Association has provided the draft code to EPHC in the belief that it addresses the concerns expressed by the Covenant Council on an earlier draft.

As you are aware, on 23 December 2002 Ministers challenged retailers to include the following targets in a Code of Practice:

We certainly recognise that retailers should not have to carry burden of reducing plastic bags alone. To this end Ministers also challenged governments, industry and the Australian community to work towards an aspirational goal of reducing the amount of plastic bag litter by 75% by the end of 2004. I should emphasise that this latter goal is separate to the targets EPHC set before retailers. In identifying the targets for the Code, Ministers expected that retailers would make significant progress in meeting them this year. The current draft Code, while recognising the desire to have an improved recycling rate and reasonable coverage of the retail sector, does not in our view achieve this.

Ministers challenged retailers with targets that were arrived at with due consideration of the public pressure to change consumption patterns, an understanding of how many bags are used and their potential contribution to litter. The target to reduce the number of HDPE plastic bags used by 50% was set in light of reports that the Ireland had significantly reduced litter by reducing bag use by 90%. Given our first preference to address the plastic bags issues on a voluntary basis, the outcomes of any voluntary mechanism needs to, at the least, approach a comparison in effectiveness to the mandatory Irish scheme.

In practice this would mean reducing the number of bags used by each consumer by half, an outcome Ministers reasoned would be achievable both by retailers and consumers, given appropriate voluntary measures supported by education. While EPHC realised that there would be significant challenges involved in meeting this target, Ministers hoped that industry would demonstrate its commitment to this issue by stepping up to the mark and addressing the full range of issues on a co-operative basis.

Having considered the draft Code, Ministers express concern that:

Council will meet in July to pursue nationally coordinated mandatory measures in relation to plastic bags. EPHC is still prepared to consider at that meeting any substantive proposals, which convincingly address the targets set by Ministers in December 2002. Should retailers wish to do so such proposals need to reach me by 27 June 2003. I would expect that any such proposals would have been discussed with and preferably supported by the National Packaging Covenant Council. I have copied this letter to the Chief Executive Officers of Coles Myer and Woolworths and to the Chair of the National Packaging Covenant Council.

Given the significant public interest in this topic you will note that we have outlined the key elements of our response in the EPHC communiqué.

Yours sincerely

<signed>

DAVID KEMP

cc. Mr Rob Joy, Chair of the National Packaging Covenant Council
Mr Alan Williams, Coles Myer Ltd
Mr Roger Corbett, Woolworths Ltd

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