South Australia Becomes First to Implement A Statewide Plastic Bag Ban

Last modified on May 4, 2009 by Site Administrator

In May 2009, South Australia became the first state to place an outright ban on lightweight plastic checkout bags that are less than 35 microns thick. In addition, the legislation requires all shops to carry reusable or “environmentally-friendly” alternatives, such as cornstarch or paper bags at-cost to consumers. Though the ban was originally proposed at a national level, the move lost momentum last April when state and federal environmental officials failed to come to an agreement. South Australia is expected to eradicate 400 million plastic bags from the annual waste stream and is currently pressuring the federal government to follow suit.

Longer lines at checkout stands are seen as inevitable as employees get adjusted to packing items in customers’ reusable bags and must wait for customers that forget or need to purchase reusable bags. Retailers will be subject to a $315 on-the-spot fine or a penalty up to $5,000 for non-compliance. Bag suppliers that knowingly provide banned bags to retailers will face harsher fines up to $20,000.

Proposing a Plastic Bag Ban

Last modified on August 20, 2008 by Site Administrator

Australians consume roughly 6.9 billion plastic bags per year, which translates to one bag per person on a daily basis. Plastic bags make up approximately 2% of Australian trash. Of Australia’s 6.9 billion plastic bags, 53% are distributed by supermarkets and the remaining 47% comes from other retail outlets such as drug stores, fast food chains and liquor stores. The Australian government is currently proposing to implement a ban on these bags, if passed the transitional period would commence on January 1, 2009. At that point, all retailers who currently use plastic bags will be required to offer more sustainable alternatives to the public that are compostable, exempt from the ban or designed to be used for 2 years or more. Bags exempt from the ban include vegetable, “green”, trash, compostable, biodegradable and paper bags.

The ban would take full effect on May 4, 2009, and plastic bags made of polyethylene polymer with a thickness of less than 35 microns would become illegal for retailers to distribute. The penalty for non-compliant retailers consists of an immediate $315 fine per offense.


Nation urged to follow SA bag ban from ABC News, May 4, 2009.
This news article provides an overview of Australia's plastic bag ban. Comments by readers exhibit mixed reactions; while some applaud the move and argue that the ban is about "living with less and thinking about how we consume things", others argue that there is "no definitive evidence that plastic bags cause an environmental problem" and cite health-related concerns that will emerge from packing a variety of different food items in the same bag and allowing bacteria to build up in unlined trash bins. One commenter suggested that "The bag is not the problem; there is 99% more plastic carried out of the shop in the bag, too much packaging is plastic, time to look a bit deeper than just the carry bag."

Plastic bag ban begins from ABC News, May 4, 2009.
Australian retailers are faced with a new challenge of curbing plastic bag usage in light of a bag ban that went into effect in early May. Opponents of the plastic bag ban argue that the legislation will likely spark health-safety risks because combining meats, seafood, and produce in one bag week after week will introduce contamination if reusable bags are not kept in sanitary conditions. A spokesman for a grocery chain also stated concerns over the extra time needed to pack green bags or wait for customers that forget their reusable bags, and urged consumers to be patient during this time of transition.

Nolan-ITU (2002), “Plastic Shopping Bags—Analysis of Levies and Environmental Impacts, Report for the Department of Environment and Heritage,” Melbourne, Australia, Prepared by Nolan-ITU Pty Ltd, Victoria, Australia, Decemberat. (Accessed June 18, 2008).

Zero Waste Program
Outlines the proposed plastic bag ban in Australia and answers frequently asked questions regarding the ban. The site also includes statistics on government spending on waste services and relevant dates for the ban.

National Plastic Bags Working Group Report to the National Packaging Covenant Council, December 6, 2002
A report on currently plastic bag use and disposal by consumers and waste management services. Identifies plastic bag problems and outlines possible solutions.

Plastic Retail Carry Bag Use for 2002-2005, May 25, 2006
A consultant report on the decline of plastic bag use in Australia from 2002-2005

Plastic Shopping Bags- An Analysis of Levies and Environmental Impacts, December 2002
An analysis of the plastic ban levy impact and environmental impacts in Australia.

“Plastic Bag Levy (Assessment and Collection) Bill 2002 and Plastic Bag (Minimization of Usage) Education Fund Bill 2002,” Submission to Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Committee, Australian Retailers Association, June 2003.

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