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Plastic bag debate

G Magazine

As the world turns away from the once-great plastic bag, its replacements are having some trouble of their own getting the green tick of approval.

plastic bag

Credit: iStockphoto

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Around the world, countries, cities and towns have jumped on the anti-plastic bandwagon. Last year San Francisco became the first city in the US to ban plastic bags outright, and the small town of Modbury in the UK gained much publicity when it followed suit.

In January this year, China - the world's most populous nation that uses about three billion plastic bags a day - announced that it banned free plastic bags from shops by June 2008. Meanwhile, super-thin plastic bags have already been banned.

Of course, the war on plastic bags in Australia is not a new one. Calls for a levy on supermarket bags were first heard in 2002, and on Anzac Day this year, the town of Coles Bay in Tasmania celebrated five years of being plastic bag free.

However, in recent months Australian environmental groups have stepped up their campaign to rid the streets of plastic bags.

They have the support of Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who, shortly after taking up office, declared his intention to phase out plastic shopping bags from the nation's supermarkets by the end of the year. They also have the support of many consumers who see plastic bags as a blight on urban and rural landscapes.

"With most people there's a feeling of 'let's just get on with it already'," says Jon Dee, founder of environmental group Planet Ark and the man who, along with Ron Clarke, Mayor of the Gold Coast, is spearheading the 'National Plastic Bag Campaign'.

"We've been talking about a phase-out for nearly six years now and we need to just get on and do it."

But that's easier said than done. For every person who believes that plastic bags are the antithesis of all that is green and good, there is another who argues that banning plastic bags serves only to make consumers feel good about themselves.

This contention reaches the highest levels of government. On April 17 environment ministers came together in Melbourne to discuss the fate of the plastic bags in Australia. The end result reflected the nature of the debate: none of the states could agree on the best way to tackle a ban.

Each state will now enact its own approach, from South Australia's total ban by the end of the year, to Victoria's planned trials for a levy.

The one thing the states could agree on is that we need to wean ourselves off plastics bags. But are they really that evil? Would getting rid of them be the answer to our waste woes?

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