NSW Supermarket bans plastic bags



plastic bag

Credit: iStockphoto

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Plastic bags could soon be a thing of the past and one small NSW town is leading the charge.

IGA Barraba supermarket in the country town of Barraba on the Manilla River, 502 km north of Sydney has enforced a permanent ban on plastic shopping bags.

"We went cold turkey," said store owner John Bishton, who said the complete ban on single-use bags began on November 3.

The ban followed a successful "Going Green for Spring promotion" ran by the store in September that encouraged shoppers to use re-usable green bags and cardboard boxes instead of shopping bags.

Customers who embraced the stores' eco ideals were rewarded with discounted green bags and give always but not all customers were happy with the program.

"A few customers were not accepting of it," Bishton said, "but at the end of the day it's about the bigger picture."

The jury is still out on just how friendly re-usable green bags are for the environment. The material used to produce them is a by-product of oil refining and is not able to be recycled.

"Whether it's the most environmentally friendly or not," Bishton said, "It's a way of reducing these [single use] bags." IGA Barraba is the only supermarket in the town that houses 2,000 residents and according to Bishton his small supermarket went through over 4,000 plastic shopping bags per week.

Bishton says the key to the success of the program is changing people's habits.
"They've already got ten of them at home", he said. "They just have to start using them."

Edmund Horan, an environmental engineer from RMIT agrees and says there are many factors to consider when deciding which shopping bag to use.

"It's not a black and white issue when it comes to plastic bags," he said. "If you can put a ban on plastic bags and use the green ones, as long as they're used lots of times. It makes sense," he explained.

Planet Ark co-founder Jon Dee said a ban on lightweight plastic bags and a charge for the heavy variety of plastic bags is the only way to stop people using them.

"The ideal outcome is to ban single-use plastic bags as South Australia has done and have a charity charge of about 15 cents," he said.

This way, he said, both society and the environment can benefit. "Then if people forget their re-useable bags then they have a cheap bin liner and are helping out a national charity."

A plastic bag levy was recently trialled in Victorian supermarkets with great success. The 10-cent levy was put on all plastic bags at Coles, Woolworths (Safeway) and IGA supermarkets in Warrnambool, Wangaratta and Fountain Gate. The use of plastic bags in these areas dropped by 79 per cent.

The results as well as other plastic bags issues will be discussed at the Environment Protection and Heritage Council meeting to be held today in Adelaide. The meeting follows the passing of a bill in the Lower House of the South Australia to ban plastic bags, which if passed in the Upper House will be in place from January 1st, 2009.

Dee believes a national approach is needed to combat the issue of plastic bags and the government needs to put the pressure on supermarkets to reduce their use.

"The Government is focusing so much on climate change to the detriment of other issues," Dee said. "People need to be reminded and the best way to get people to remember is by putting a charge on all plastic bags."