Single use plastic bags bans in Australia : statewise

Legalities and regulations around plastic bags in Australia

There has been a gradual phase-out of retailers supplying single use plastic bags in Australia. The way in which people ultimately see their relationship with plastic bags is changing, as the public discourse shifts towards the excesses of single use plastic bags. This pollution has reinvigorated a well instituted spirit of conservation in Australia. In South Australia and in Tasmania, people are adjusting well to state wide bans on retailers supplying the single use plastic bags. Both states also lead in first initiating an environmental policy which enforces a barrier to its local markets. The bans legislate against the distribution of single use plastic bags by all retailers in food, groceries and in hard goods and soft goods.


Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

The ACT has had a plastic bags ban in place since November, 2011. This ban applies to retailers in the ACT and has been reported to reduce plastic bag waste in landfill by one third. The current plastic bag ban has come under review in 2012 and 2014, however, is still currently in place. The ACT plastic bag laws are specified under the Plastic Shopping Bags Ban Act 2010.

Regulations
  • Retailers are prohibited from providing single-use polyethylene plastic bags less than 35 microns in thickness.
  • A retailer commits an offence if they supply a plastic shopping bag to a customer and if a plastic shopping bag is supplied for the customer to carry goods bought or to be bought from the retailer.
  • This ban applies to all retailers including take-away food shops and even at farmers markets.
  • Degradable plastic bags are also included in the ban, however, biodegradable bags that meet Australian Standards AS 4736 are excluded (these include plant starch materials or compostable materials).
  • The enforcing body is Access Canberra, which looks to achieve compliance with laws rather than to prosecute retailers.

Tasmania (TAS)

A small town in Tasmania was the first in Australia to officially ban single-use plastic bags. The state itself did not introduce a statewide ban in full effect until November, 2013. Since then, under the Plastic Bags Ban Act 2013, retailers are prohibited in supplying customers with lightweight plastic shopping bags.

Regulations

  • Retailers are prohibited from providing single-use polyethylene plastic bags less than 35 microns in thickness.
  • The ban excludes heavier plastic bags used by clothing and department stores, lightweight fruit and veg (also for meat) ‘barrier bags’, plastic bags used for packaging (e.g bread or ice bags) and resealable zipper storage bags.
  • Degradable plastic bags are also included in the ban, however, biodegradable bags that meet Australian Standards are excluded (these include plant starch materials or compostable materials).
  • The ban is administered and enforced by officers from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and retailers face penalty fines if laws are breached.

South Australia

The first state-wide plastic bag ban initiative was implemented South Australia in May, 2009. Similar to other states it reports that there has been a substantial drop in plastic bags in landfill, with almost 400 million less used since the ban. However, local researches have found a significant increase in the purchasing of plastic bin liners since the ban. There remains, however, state-wide support from retailers, government and consumers for the Plastic Shopping Bags (Waste Avoidance) Act 2008.

Regulations

  • Retailers are prohibited from providing single-use polyethylene plastic bags less than 35 microns in thickness.
  • Retailers are not to provide plastic shopping bags to a customer for the means of carrying goods purchased or to be purchased from the retailer.
  • There is a maximum penalty of $5,000.
  • A person can also be found guilty if they miss represent to another person that a plastic bag is not a plastic shopping bag.
  • The ban does not include biodegradable bags, a plastic bag that is integral to packaging of goods sealed prior to sale or a bag that does not fall within the definition of a plastic bag under the Waste Avoidance Act 2008.

Northern Territory (NT)

Similar to other state-wide bans in Australia, the NT regulations specify that lightweight single use plastic bags and degradable bags can no longer be distributed by retailers. The plastic bag ban commenced in September, 2011, under the Environment Protection (Beverage Containers and Plastic Bags) Act 2011. This has come under review in 2014, with retailer observations reporting there has been an increase of support post commencement of the ban.

Regulations

  • Retailers are prohibited from providing single-use polyethylene plastic carry bags less than 35 microns in thickness.
  • Biodegradable bags are not prohibited, however, degradable bags are.
  • A plastic bag which is integral to the packaging of goods sealed prior to sale.
  • A bag of a kind prescribed by regulations such as the Australian Standards AS 4736.

Author: Magnus Garciano, Swinburne University, Melbourne