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

Interview on 'Drive' ABC 612 Brisbane
Friday, 4 June 2004

Plastic bags

Compere: The reusable shopping bag has already made its mark on supermarket shoppers. More often these days you see people with calico or green bags lugging their shopping home. But now the campaign has another target: fast food outlets.

It's World Environment Day tomorrow and the Federal Environment Minister, Dr David Kemp, wants all fast food outlets to stop using plastic bags.

David Kemp joins me now. Good afternoon, welcome to the program.

David Kemp: Good afternoon, Spencer.

Compere: Only about 53% of plastic bags come from supermarkets, apparently, the rest from other outlets?

David Kemp: That's right, and the fast food retailers are a very important group in those other outlets. They're catering to a very big market and so I've written, on the eve of World Environment Day, to all fast food outlets across Australia to cut plastic bags and to particularly keep the seas clean from litter such as plastic bags.

Compere: They're not all doing it, of course, are they?

David Kemp: No, not everyone is doing it but the record of the supermarkets I think shows that there is going to be a willingness amongst retailers, because they understand that the community is fed up with this problem. They want to see the problem solved and, at the moment, we're engaged in a very big national effort to have the community take some ownership of the problem and actually address it.

And I think, if we're going to succeed in this, we will actually succeed in spreading very positive messages about caring for the environment generally that'll stand us in good stead.

Compere: You're calling for outlets to act voluntarily to get rid of shopping - plastic bags. Why not legislate them and just ban them outright?

David Kemp: Well if you go down that track you're really saying we don't have faith in the community to do this, we feel we've got to ban it. And if we do that then we're stuck with the problem that this year we don't know what the alternative is going to be.

A lot of people think that if you just switch from plastic to paper bags it should solve the problem. But the problem is paper bags are much bulkier than plastic bags, it would take seven truck loads of paper bags to equal one truck load of plastic bags and then you've got all that pollution in the atmosphere. What impact is that going to have on the forests?

So there's not an easy solution at the moment to the alternative. But we believe that within five years we ought to be able to phase out these plastic bags completely.

Compere: Just to pick up on what you're saying, there, paper bags are not necessarily any better is what you're saying, isn't it?

David Kemp: Well they may not be better for the environment when you look at the whole cycle, from the cutting down of the trees, the manufacture, the shipping of these bags to supermarkets. A paper bag is biodegradable so it has that great advantage over a plastic bag. But if you're looking for an overall environmental benefit you've got to make sure you've got a good alternative.

There's a lot of research going on at the moment into biodegradability. We haven't got the perfect biodegradable bag at the moment but I'm pretty confident that we will have those replacements by five years.

Compere: What is your actual suggestion to fast food outlets, then? It's alright writing to them on the eve of World Environment Day and saying, 'phase out plastic bags, please' very nicely. But if you're saying you don't know what the alternative is, literally, what are they to hand their burgers over in?

David Kemp: Oh well, I think that the paper bag has got some merit. Sometimes you don't even need to use a bag, there's an excessive amount of packaging being used at the present time. More can be fitted into bags so that you use less bags as a result. A lot [indistinct] is to do with staff training and I think we're seeing this in the supermarkets.

The big supermarkets are like great big ships, it's slow to turn them around. But I think if you're a regular supermarket shopper you know that your supermarket is now taking the non-plastic bag, the fibre bag or the calico bag seriously as an alternative and offering it to customers in a visible way. And we want the fast food outlets to be part of that and to be part of the retailers' code of practice for the management of plastic shopping bags.

Compere: Yeah, it's been most noticeable this year, in supermarkets. Some - not all - but some of them actually have stickers now which say, as you go through the checkout, 'say no to plastic bags,' and I for one think that that's to be applauded. Do you have any idea how successful the [indistinct] removal away from plastic bags has been in supermarkets?

David Kemp: Well the estimation that we've got so far is that the two biggest supermarket chains alone have cut plastic bags by more than two hundred million bags. Now that's a good start - but it's only a start. We're auditing the performance of the retailers who subscribe to the code of practice, and in the middle of the year we will know quite precisely how successful they've been.

Compere: All right, next time I go through - if I go through a drive-through fast food outlet this weekend I think I'll hand over a calico bag and ask them to put the burgers in that, and see what reaction I get.

David Kemp: Good on you, Spencer.

Compere: Environment Minister, Dr David Kemp, thanks for your time.

David Kemp: Bye.

Commonwealth of Australia