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South Australia has become the first Australian state to put a complete ban on plastic bags.
The Plastic Shopping Bags (Waste Avoidance) Bill was passed in the Upper House of the South Australian parliament yesterday and will be phased in between January 1 and 4 May, 2009.
Under the new law all retailers, including supermarkets, will face on-the-spot fines for distributing single-use, light-weight polyethylene shopping bags.
Co-founder of Planet Ark Jon Dee said the bill is a landmark decision.
"After all the talk by Environment Ministers about phasing out plastic bags, we finally have a state that has passed legislation to ban them at the checkout," he said. "This is a major win for the six year old campaign to achieve a national ban or levy on plastic bags."
The ban follows a dramatic increase in the number of plastic bags used by Australians over the past few years.
Earlier this year the Environment Protection and Heritage Committee released new figures which showed that plastic bag usage in Australia increased by 600 million plastic bags in just one year.
Dee hopes the ban in South Australia will help reduce the effect of plastic bags on the environment.
"Last year, Australians used over four billion plastic checkout bags, most of which ended up in landfill or the environment," he said. "We are very hopeful that this ban will lead to a significant reduction in the number of marine animals that are killed or injured every year by plastic bags."
"National approach is best"
Last week, State Environment ministers met in Adelaide for a meeting of the Environment Protection and Hertiage Council to discuss the issue of plastic bag reduction and the results of a recent trial in Victoria where three major supermarkets added a 10-cent levy to all plastic bags sold.
The successful trial, that reduced the number of plastic bags by 79 per cent, has inspired a similar 12 month trial in the ACT. Tasmania and the Northern Territory are drafting proposals.
Dee said a national approach is the best way to combat plastic bags but Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett is putting it off by calling for more reports and research. He said South Australia was frustrated and went ahead with a statewide ban.
Dee, who is also the organiser of The National Plastic Bag Campaign, believes the best way to go forward is to add a charity charge on plastic bags.
"We're recommending that plastic bags be made biodegradable and pink with five cents from each bag charge going to a national cancer fund," he said."*
South Australia joins China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Rwanda who have banned light weight plastic bags.
* Correction: the term 'biodegradable' should have been in the original quote.