The Guardian 30 March, 2005

Retailers’ abysmal performance
on plastic bags

A review of Australia’s plastic bag consumption by peak green groups has revealed retailers have dismally failed on all key promises to cut bag use.

The failure means retailers cannot be trusted to voluntarily reduce plastic bag use and federal and state governments must act now to introduce a levy or ban.

In 2003, environment ministers agreed to a voluntary reduction code that aimed for: a 25% reduction by end 2004; 50% by end 2005; 75% reduction in litter by December 2005; and 25% small business participation rate.

The group review reveals a failure on seven key promises, with plastic bag use falling by just 20.4% with only 4% of small businesses participating.

“This is an abysmal performance. Retailers pledged to take meaningful steps to cut plastic bag use and so far they have failed on all accounts. They have duped householders and the environment. This shows they cannot be relied upon”, said Jenny Henty, Director of Environment Victoria’s Zero Waste Campaign.

“Environment ministers must set penalties for retailers who fail to meet targets. And industry must show how they hope to phase out plastic bags by 2008, considering they can’t even meet the 2004 target.”

“Let’s not wait for further failure. We must take action now”, said Australian Conservation Foundation Campaigner Suzie Brown.

“While the voluntary code remains in place, billions of plastic bags continue to choke our waterways, parks and landfill sites, in the process killing thousands of animals.”

In 2003, environment ministers promised that if retailers failed, mandatory measures would be introduced.

Total Environment Centre director Jeff Angel said when Ireland introduced a 27 cent levy on plastic bags in 2002, use decreased by 90% over a six-month period.

“Many Australian shoppers have shown a willingness to BYO bags but we continue to be addicted to them. For lasting environmental change everyone needs prompts and reminders. A levy or a ban on carry bags at the check out would provide this,” he said.

“These results show that a national, voluntary approach is not the best solution. It is a cop-out for governments and retailers.”

The review comes as supermarkets and other retailers meet the Federal Environment Minister in Canberra today to discuss their poor performance.

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