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Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2001-2004

The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

 

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Media Release
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

4 June 2004

World Environment Day challenge


On the eve of World Environment Day, the Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, has called on fast food outlets to join the growing tide of retailers slashing plastic bags.

In a letter to the key national fast food chains, Dr Kemp asked all franchisees to give active support to the voluntary retailers' Code of Practice for the Management of Plastic Shopping Bags.

"World Environment Day is celebrated around the world each year on the 5th June and this year's United Nations theme of Wanted! Seas and Oceans - Dead or Alive? could not be more relevant to Australia," Dr Kemp said.

"While we are a world leader in the protection of our oceans, our own marine area - at 14 million square kilometres - is nearly double that of our land mass. It is estimated that each year in Australia, around 50 million plastic bags find their way into the litter stream, harming our marine environment and wildlife.

"The fast food sector serves millions of Australians each day. They are ideally placed to influence behavioural change and reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in our environment.

"Over 90 per cent of supermarkets have already signed up to the Code, committing to cut plastic bag use by 25 per cent by the end of 2004 and 50 per cent by the end of 2005, as well as increase recycling to 15 per cent by the end of 2005.

"As early as February, two of the biggest supermarkets alone had cut plastic bags by more than 200 million, demonstrating that this voluntary approach is really working in bringing about long-term attitude change. This is a great start, but we still need to do more. Supermarkets only provide 53 per cent of the bags used in Australia while other retailers, including fast food retailers, use 47 per cent.

"Each retail sector needs to be part of the solution, so I'm calling on the fast food industry to help to keep our seas and oceans healthy and alive by saying 'No' to plastic bags."

For information on World Environment Day, visit www.deh.gov.au and for plastic bags, www.deh.gov.au/industry/waste/plastic-bags.


Dear

On the eve of World Environment Day for 2004, I am writing to encourage you and your franchisees to give active support to the voluntary retailers' Code of Practice for the Management of Plastic Shopping Bags.

World Environment Day is celebrated around the world each year on 5 June and is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and focuses political attention and action. The World Environment Day theme chosen by the UN for 2004 is Wanted! Seas and Oceans - Dead or Alive?

This is a very relevant theme for Australia because while we are a world leader in the protection of oceans, our own marine area, at 14 million square kilometres, is nearly double that of our landmass. All Australians need to act now if we want to keep our seas and oceans healthy and alive, particularly by addressing the devastating impact plastic bags can have on our marine environment.

It is estimated that each year in Australia around 50 million plastic bags find their way into the litter stream and impacting on the environment. Your sector, which serves millions of Australians each day, is in an excellent position to influence a change in consumer behaviour and reduce the amount of plastic bags that end up in the environment.

When Federal and State Ministers investigated the issues associated with plastic bag use in Australia, we concluded that plastic bag litter was a significant national waste problem that was damaging our environment, particularly mammals, birds and marine life.

After much debate on the various options for dealing with this issue, we agreed to pursue voluntary approaches in the first instance as part of our commitment to shared responsibility through product stewardship. A range of initiatives are currently underway, including development of national best practice guidelines for litter waste management at landfills and public places, development of national standards for degradable plastics, implementation of a comprehensive consumer awareness campaign to be undertaken by Clean Up Australia, and implementation of the voluntary retailers' Code of Practice for the Management of Plastic Shopping Bags.

The Code was developed by the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) who took up our challenge to reduce the use of plastic bags by 50% by the end of 2005 and to significantly increase recycling rates. It includes bag use reduction targets of 25% by 2004 and 50% by 2005, a recycling target of 15% by the end of 2005 and a commitment to report twice a year on progress made in meeting the targets. These reports will be independently audited and made available to the public. We will closely monitor the reports, and if the targets are not being met, we may need to consider mandatory measures.

I understand that over 90 per cent of supermarkets have now signed the Code and have made a good start through a variety of initiatives to meet this year's target. Supermarkets, however, only use 53 per cent of the bags purchased in Australia. Other retailers, which include fast food retailers, use the remaining 47 per cent.

I would therefore appreciate any assistance you might be able to give to encourage your outlets and franchisees to participate in the ARA Code of Practice. Each retail sector has to be part of this solution if voluntary measures are to work and take action similar to the action being taken by supermarkets.

This problem can only be addressed by all sectors working together and I look forward to hearing of your sector's commitment to addressing the plastic bag problem.

Yours sincerely

[signed]
DAVID KEMP
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage

Commonwealth of Australia