Danielle Wheeler calls for Hawkesbury businesses to banish plastic bags from their stores

Plastic bags at the checkout have become a thing of the past in some Australian states, and there is now a call to see this happen in the Hawkesbury. Picture: Rohan Thomson
Plastic bags at the checkout have become a thing of the past in some Australian states, and there is now a call to see this happen in the Hawkesbury. Picture: Rohan Thomson

HAWKESBURY councillor Danielle Wheeler wants to see single-use plastic bag usage stopped in the Hawkesbury.

The type of bags Cr Wheeler has her sights set on are the grey ones you receive at the supermarket checkout. Their proper name is low density polyehtylene (LDE) bags.

At Hawkesbury Council’s July 11 meeting, Cr Wheeler moved a Notice of Motion, which will see Council approach businesses and ask them to opt-in to a 12-month halt to their use.

“Plastic bags are cheap, convenient and deadly. We can fix this and now is a great time to start banning the bag,” Cr Wheeler said.

Similar bans have been introduced in South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory and in Queensland a ban will come into place in 2018.

What would a ban mean for the Hawkesbury?

At the moment, goods purchased at most supermarkets are placed into these LDE bags at the checkout, and this would stop if businesses opted to abandon them.

In other states where bans have been placed on these bags, supermarkets have replaced them with larger plastic bags, which are designed to be reused a few times. There are other options too, including calico bags and freezer bags.

These bags are sold at a cost to the consumer. The plastic bags cost roughly 15 cents each, and others can range from about $1-3 typically.

Many shoppers also purchase reusable bags, that can be folded into a pouch and easily fit in a handbag or even pockets.

Of course, some shoppers also just carry their items if they can manage it.

Why ban them?

A sea turtle with a plastic bag on its nose in Cairns, Queensland. Picture: Troy Mayne

A sea turtle with a plastic bag on its nose in Cairns, Queensland. Picture: Troy Mayne

The simple answer is because they end up in landfill or the ocean and take a long time to breakdown said PlanetArk’s recycling programs manager Ryan Collins.

“There are about 180 million bags that enter the Australian environment every year, that is just litter,” he said.

“The rest go to landfill and about 3 per cent are recycled.”

Mr Collins said the bags were very harmful to the environment.

“The problem with any type of plastic bag is they all sit in the environment for many years and have the potential to impact on wildlife,” he said.

“You have probably all seen the images of turtles and birds who ingest the plastic.”

Plastic ending up in the ocean is a big problem. The CSIRO estimates that by 2050, 99 per cent of all seabirds will have consumed at least some sort of plastic.

Plastic affects sea turtles as well, as University of Queensland researchers discovered.

Is this likely to happen?

Cr Wheeler said she had a number of local businesses who said they would support her calls to reduce plastic bag usage.

Council likely cannot force businesses to abandon them, so it would all be on a voluntary basis.

PlanetArk’s Ryan Collins said one of the biggest hurdles was to change people’s behaviour, particularly when they are used to receiving these bags for free.

“We need some sort of incentive for people to change behaviour,” he said.

At the end of the day, with no laws to force businesses to stop using LDE plastic bags, it will be up to each individual operation as to whether they scrap them.

What can you do?

If you want to reduce your plastic bag use, the best thing you can do according to Choice (based upon research by Peter Allan from Hyder Consulting) is to use a reusable shopping bag.

Choice said the most environmentally friendly option was a PET reusable bag, which are bags made from recycled materials.

Choice said Calico bags were not a good option, because of how much water was required to make them.

Council’s motion

The motion was passed unanimously.

It will see Council approach local businesses and ask them to opt-in to abandoning the use of LDE plastic bags.

Council staff will also investigate ways to lobby businesses to reduce their plastic bag usage, and also an awareness program for residents to encourage them to reduce their own usage.

The Liberal Party’s Sarah Richards said she supported Council taking an advocacy role on this issue, but was not for businesses being forced to abandon the bags.

Cr Wheeler said she wanted to move this motion after watching the ABC’s War on Waste program and meeting with a local girl, Lily Spies, who spoke at Council on July 11 in support of the motion.