In the last three months, plastic bag use in Australia has dropped by 80%. An estimated 1.5 billion bags have been prevented from use, after two of Australia’s largest supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths banned them from their stores this summer.
Although the decision was initially met with public backlash, it was a decision quickly accepted, with some retailers “reporting reduction rates as high as 90 percent”, according the National Retail Association’s David Stout. The Australian public seemingly haven’t found it to difficult to adjust to the change, which requires them to either bring their own bags to shop with, or to purchase a reusable one for a certain fee.
It is estimated that there is 5.25 trillion pieces of trash in our oceans, the majority of that number being made up of plastics of various sizes, and bans such as these do a little to weaken the environmental blow caused by plastics. That being said, plastics pollution is still a very real problem and will be for a long time to come.
There have been calls for the Australian government to promote a nationwide ban on plastic bags after pressure from environmentalists. The most populous state, New South Wales, is the only state that has no legislation in place currently ensuring it would phase out single-use plastic bags.
This news from Australia is not alone. According to reusable bag company ReuseThisBag, at least 32 countries have some form of ban or taxation in place, in an effort to limit the use and pollution of single-use plastic bags.
“We’re still seeing a lot of small to medium bags being used, especially in the food category, and whilst I get some comfort that the majors have done this voluntarily I think there still needs to be a ban in place,” Said Stout. “For business, for the environment, for the consumer and of course even for councils which have to work to remove these things from landfills, there’s a multitude of benefits on a whole to doing this.”
The United Kingdom currently has a tax on plastic bags which has resulted in more use of stronger, more durable reusable bags. Some parts of the United States also operate either partial bans or taxes, but legislation is not yet countrywide.
The average lifespan of a plastic bag is around 12 minutes, then it is discarded in a variety of ways. When discarded, they inevitably find their ways into green areas, or more likely, are washed into waterways. They are estimated to kill around 100,000 marine mammals every year, and when they do eventually break down, simply become smaller and smaller particles known as microplastics, which circulate the oceans and lie in landfills for anywhere up to 1,000 years.
Some may say that banning plastic bags doesn’t work. There hasn’t been a large amount of studies done on plastic pollution in relation to bans, but progress seems to have been made in some parts of the world. For example in San Jose, California, there has been an 60% reduction in plastic bags found in creeks and rivers since a ban was put in place in 2012. Similarly, in Seattle there has been a 76% decline in plastic bag waste since their banning five years ago.
While things are looking a little brighter in terms of plastic bag use, it is still crucial that each an every country introduces measures to limit all kinds of single-use plastic from being used. Every second, as many as 160,000 plastic bags are used globally, and unfortunately, only 1-3% of them are recycled. Click that link to see the amount of plastic bags being produced, the number currently stands at 4.6 trillion. This is neither sustainable or environmentally-friendly.