Coles and Woolworths announced their plan to stop providing single-use plastic bags by the end of 2018. Woolworths said they gave out more than 3.2 billion lightweight plastic bags a year. Single-use bags are already banned in South Australia, the ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania.
Banning the lightweight bags doesn’t solve the problem of too much plastic in landfill, though, despite going some way towards it.
In 2014, the ACT Government published a review of the plastic bag ban and found that there was still a problem with plastic bags in landfill, although the quantity had reduced. In comparison to the 266 tonnes of plastic bags buried in landfill in the six months prior to the ban, a six month period in 213 saw 171 tonnes of plastic bags being thrown away. That’s a 36 per cent reduction, but it’s still a lot of plastic.
The issue is how we dispose of our household garbage. As many as 40 per cent of those single-use bags are used to wrap our rubbish. So what’s the alternative?
In South Australia, after single-use bags were banned, the sales of plastic bin liners increased dramatically. A government review found that while just 15 per cent of shoppers bought plastic bin liners before the ban, 80 per cent bought them five years later. And a UK study suggested that those heavier bin liners are actually worse for the environment than the light-weight bags.
Environmental activists promote alternative disposal methods like composting, but with the move towards apartment living this isn’t practical for many. And most apartment complexes have regulations insisting that household waste is wrapped before it’s hurled down the garbage chute.
There’s a suggestion that we should return to the ways of our parents, when food scraps were wrapped in newspaper before being deposited in the bin. But who buys a newspaper these days?
Perhaps the answer lies in the production of genuinely biodegradable bin-liners. Although there are products available labelled biodegradable, according to CHOICE this can mean they break down in anything from two to 10 years, and perhaps only under certain conditions.