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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

Interview - 5UV Adelaide
Monday, 4 August 2003

Subject: Ministerial Council Decision on Plastic Bags

JOHN MURCH: The issue of plastic bags has become a hot one since our very own South Australian Environment and River Murray Minister John Hill said, "This needs to be addressed. We need to cut down on plastic bags". It's gone federally and now joining us is the Federal Environment Minister, Dr David Kemp, with some of the good news.

Good morning, Dr Kemp.

DR KEMP: Morning, John.

MURCH: Thanks for joining us. I say some of the good news, but it seems it'll be 2005 before the big news comes through in terms of a reduction in plastic bags. Is that the findings?

KEMP: Well, all the Ministers met on Friday, and they felt that while the retail industry had come a long way and agreed to reduce the use of plastic bags by 50% by December 2005, that's in two and a half years, the Ministers really wanted something stronger than that. And so we've said that we would like to see plastic bags completely phased out within five years.

MURCH: Now, there seems to be a technicality, though, on what sort of plastics bags there are that you want phased out. 'Cause I'm thinking there's ones that you can use a number of times and there's others that you put your milk, your bread and that's about it.

KEMP: Well, that's right. The environmentally difficult bags are the lightweight bags that puff up like a balloon in the wind and blow around and get into creeks, streams and into the sea where they do cause a real risk for wildlife. There are heavier bags, which are available, which are multiple-use bags; they don't have the same environmental problem. And so what we're really talking about here are the standard, lightweight, virgin plastic bags that most of the major retailers currently use.

MURCH: The question also can be raised on how you're going to involve small business. Do you think this will be a challenge?

KEMP: I think it is a challenge. It's always difficult to communicate to the small and medium sized businesses because, basically, they just want to get on with the job and they're not listening for messages from outside.

But we've asked the Retailers Association to conduct a really aggressive campaign to encourage the small retailers to come on board with the new code that the National Packaging Covenant Council has put in place and that's the code which sets this target of 50% reduction by December 2005. It supports a target of 75% reduction on plastic bags in the litter stream by the same time and it commits the retailers to work with the plastics and recycling industry to replace the virgin plastic bags with recycled bags.

MURCH: Dr Kemp, at the end of the day it's also about the consumer, I guess. Is there a concern, in your point of view, of having too much Government interaction on this issue and not enough consumer activism?

KEMP: Well, I think that's a good point. We really need to educate the community, because in the end, like every other environmental problem, it rests with the person in the street. Every one of us, really, has an environmental responsibility. There's no silver bullet that's going to solve this problem if the community doesn't back it.

And that's one of the reasons why the Ministers have really gone down this track, because behind all this there will be a very large public education campaign about the importance of recycling and particularly about the importance of not littering.

MURCH: The issue that comes to mind - and I found it on the weekend with the major supermarket chain I went to - they have a deli. And I want to raise this issue 'cause they wanted me to ask this question to you. They have a deli section where they serve the hot chips in a paper bag - good, environmentally friendly - but to actually package that with the other bags, they have those small plastic bags. How are you going to meet these challenges, the smaller, the more boutique issues, of how plastic bags are used?

KEMP: Well, I think that light plastic bags are used in a whole variety of circumstances, and they're all subject to recycling, they can be delivered up and put back into the waste stream where they can be recycled.

We really need to get the message out, I think, to consumers to not use a plastic bag if they can avoid it. If they are going to use a plastic bag, then make sure that they recycle it or reuse it. And if they're not going to reuse it, then they should try to get it, really, back into the stream where it can be put back into making new bags.

MURCH: Just finally, Dr Kemp, how much finance, 'cause at the end of the day it's about money. How much money is the Federal Government, under your leadership, going to give to recycling programs, for recycling sites for example, for the plastic bags we currently have to be recycled into goods?

KEMP: Well, we've currently put a considerable amount of money into the Bag Yourself a Better Environment Campaign.

What we've asked the major retailers to do now is to stump up with some six-figure amounts of money to support a major campaign in the public arena, awareness of plastic bags and keeping them out of the litter stream. But also in their own stores to give a great deal of prominence to opportunities to both refuse plastic bags, to use alternatives and to recycle those plastic bags which customers do take.

MURCH: I should ask you, Dr Kemp, what do you use for your shopping?

KEMP: [Laughs] Well, I use a calico bag.

MURCH: No, sincerely, what do you use?

KEMP: Yeah, I use calico bags generally. Although I find that the Green Bag, that one of the major retailers supplies now to customers at a small price, is actually a very good alternative as well.

Frankly, I find those alternative bags are much easier to carry than a large number of the small plastic bags and I would recommend them to people. I think the major retailers are beginning to train their staff to use them adequately, so I think they're a good alternative.

MURCH: Well, I wish they could do it just a little bit faster, that's all I say, Doctor.

KEMP: You know we all wish that, John. I think I agree with you.

MURCH: Dr Kemp, thanks for your time.

KEMP: Thanks very much. Bye bye.

MURCH: Dr David Kemp is the Federal Environment Minister.

And plastic bags to be phased out by December 2005. Is that quick enough? Well, you decide.

Commonwealth of Australia