ABOUT THE QLD BAG BAN
The Queensland Government is introducing a ban on all lightweight single-use plastic bags.
The following explains the ban – its background and policy context, the environmental issues caused by single-use plastic bags, and the details of the ban – what bags are banned, what bags are allowed, and what the implications are for retailers.
THE QLD BAG BAN EXPLAINED
In summary, the Queensland Government will enforce a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags from 1 July 2018.
What is the actual legislation?
The Queensland Government has passed the Waste Reduction and Recycling Amendment Bill 2017 which will forbid retailers from providing or selling lightweight plastic bags (known as single-use singlet bags) from 1 July 2018.
To ensure consistency for the retail sector, Queensland will adopt a similar law to South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
However, unlike other jurisdictions, biodegradable bags are included in the ban in Queensland, as these bags still pose a risk to aquatic animals, a critical part of Queensland’s marine ecosystem and tourism industry.
The ban will apply to the following bags:
- lightweight plastic bags, less than 35 microns thick, with handles (‘singlet’ bags) including those deemed biodegradable, degradable or compostable.
The regulation will apply to all retailers – including supermarkets, convenience stores, take-away food stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, and other retail businesses.
The ban will not apply to the following bags:
- barrier bags (typically fruit and vegetable and deli-style bags without handles)
- woven or fabric bags (like ‘green’ bags)
- heavier-weight plastic bags (like those used by department stores)
- bags that are integral to a product’s packaging (such as a bread bag)
- kitchen tidy bags.
Penalties also apply for providing misleading information about bag compliance, applicable to any person or supplier.
When does the bag ban come into effect?
After extensive consultation with the retail industry, environment groups and other stakeholders over the past three years, the Queensland plastic bag ban come into effect on 1 July 2018.
This provides adequate time for retailers to prepare, and for the Queensland government to educate customers on the impending ban.
The NRA recommends that retailers spend the next few months preparing for the ban – finding out what it means for your business through local workshops, weighing up alternatives, changing supply processes, and notifying your team. From April 2018, it’s time to start making the transition – stop ordering banned bags, start displaying notices to educate customers and use the NRA’s training kits to thoroughly prepare team members. Read more on Managing the Ban >>
Retailers will not be allowed to provide any banned bags from 1 July 2018 and fines will apply from this date.
What bags are banned?
The Queensland Government’s ban relates to single-use lightweight shopping bags with a thickness under 35 microns, whether made of HDPE* plastic, biodegradable, or degradable material. The ban does not cover barrier bags such as fruit and vegetable bags, or bags that have been designed to be used multiple times such as thicker plastic bags or woven bags.
*HDPE (high-density polyethylene): This is a lightweight plastic that the vast majority of single-use plastic bags are made from.
If you are unsure whether your current bag is under 35 microns, you will need to ask your supplier for evidence of the bags density or weight.
Examples of the lightweight single-use plastic bags included in the ban:
Retailers who are unsure whether the bags they currently supply will be banned, should ask their suppliers about the thickness of the bags. Severe penalties apply for any person or supplier who provides misleading information about a bag’s compliance.
Why are biodegradable bags banned?
A biodegradable bag is a bag made from natural material such as corn-starch (rather than petrochemical HDPE or LDPE plastic) and is designed to break down.
All existing plastic bag legislation in Australia exempts biodegradable bags from the ban where they meet the Australian Standard for composability. However, while there has been considerable research into biodegradable plastics, studies have shown there is no significant difference between standard and ‘biodegradable’ plastics in the way these plastics behave when ingested. These studies suggest that biodegradable plastics bags do not break down any faster when ingested than a ‘normal’ petrochemical plastic bag.
Given the potential impact on Queensland marine life, the Queensland Government has decided to include biodegradable bags in the ban.
What bags are allowed?
Plastic bags without handles typically used as fruit and vegetable bags or barrier bags are allowed. These tend to be smaller bags often used to contain unpackaged perishable food, including fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.
Bags designed and sold as bin liners or ‘dog poo’ bags are allowed.
Multi-use bags, including fabric, hessian and ‘green’ bags, are allowed. This includes cooler bags designed to be multi-use.
Heavier-weight plastic bags that are designed to be used multiple times, typically used by clothing and department stores, are allowed. Note: The Queensland Government has proposed that retailers take voluntary measures to reduce the use of heavier-weight plastic bags.
Paper or cardboard bags, with or without handles, are also allowed. These are often used by fast food outlets, pharmacies and convenience stores.
What are the penalties for not complying?
To ensure that all retailers are on an even playing field in regards to the ban, and that real change is accomplished, fines will apply after 1 July 2018. The fines could be up to $6095 per offence and higher for any person that provides misleading information (this also applies to bag suppliers).
In addition, retailers who ignore the bag ban may suffer consumer or media criticism that could affect your business. Shoppers may also choose to shop elsewhere if you ignore the ban or mismanage the transition.
Does the ban apply to all retailers?
Yes, the plastic bag ban applies to all retailers – large and small – across Queensland.
What support is available from the NRA?
The National Retail Association has partnered with the Queensland Government to help retailers navigate the new compliance issues, find alternative bag solutions, and to help retailers manage consumer sentiment to minimise negative impacts on their businesses.
The National Retail Association (NRA) is Australia’s largest and most representative retail industry organisation. For almost 100 years, the NRA has represented the interests of the retail, fast food and broader service sector, delivering critical information and advice to thousands of businesses nationally.
- All retailers who currently use some form of lightweight plastic bag will need to prepare for and manage their transition to an alternative. Go to Managing the Ban >>
- From July to December 2017, the NRA will be visiting over 90 locations across Queensland to provide advice and information to retailers. Find a workshop near you >>
- The NRA will also be providing useful resources, training kits and tools to assist retailers in preparing for and managing the ban. View the resources here >>
- If you have any questions about the ban, please call the NRA’s Plastic Bag Hotline at 1800 RETAIL (1800 738 245) or email email@example.com
Want to know about other industry issues the NRA is involved with? Read about the NRA’s Industry & Policy division here >>
BACKGROUND TO THE BAN
More than 30 countries have introduced some form of voluntary or regulatory approach to restricting the use of single-use plastic bags.
Governments in Australia and around the world have taken action to reduce plastic bag pollution. International and national policy measures to date have tended to focus on lightweight ‘supermarket’ shopping bags as these account for the bulk of bag usage and littering.
There have been various drivers for plastic bag bans around the world. In Bangladesh there was a need to prevent plastic litter entering drains which had been found to contribute to the severity of flooding. In South Africa, plastic bags became known as ‘the flower of South Africa’ due to their prevalence in the environment and there was a need to reduce the aesthetic impact of plastic bags.
Plastic bag ban initiatives around the world have had varied results, largely depending on proper enforcement and education. For example, China banned lightweight plastic bags in 2008 however few penalties have been enforced leading to a lack of consumer and retailer confidence. Alternatively, some countries have embraced the ban and have witnessed thriving new industries in reusable bags, creating jobs while protecting natural heritage and tourism income.
The interactive map below shows a snapshot of plastic bag ban initiatives around the world (note: this map is provided by an external source and is based on anecdotal data).
The Australian response
In 2003, Australia’s Environment Protection and Heritage Council committed to phase out lightweight, single-use plastic bags by 1 January 2009. It reaffirmed this commitment in June 2007.
Consultation on a Regulatory Impact Statement in 2007 indicated that while retailers expressed concern over any regulation, they did state that any option needed to allow them to continue to provide their customers with a choice. In light of all the considerations, the most appropriate option at the time was considered to be the introduction of a mandatory charge on the supply of a plastic bag by a retailer.
Following the release of a Decision Regulatory Impact Statement in 2008, no national agreement was reached as some states supported a ban while others preferred a Commonwealth charge.
Voluntary reduction attempts
Between 2003 and 2005, major Australian supermarkets voluntarily reduced the use of lightweight plastic shopping bags by around 44%. However, by 2007 numbers were rising and approaching 4 billion single-use plastic bags used every year. Since the end of the National Voluntary Code in 2005, there has been no successful coordinated national approach to restricting the supply of plastic bags.
In 2008, a levy of 10 cent per plastic bag was trialled at Coles and Woolworths Supermarkets and IGA retailers in Narre Warren, Wangaratta and Warrnambool in Victoria. During the four weeks of the trial there was a 79% reduction in plastic bag use at these supermarkets and the funds raised were channelled into environmental projects.
Several towns across Australia have introduced voluntary bans on the use of plastic bags. In 2003, Coles Bay in Tasmania became the first Australian town to introduce a voluntary plastic bag ban. In November 2012, Woorabinda Shire Council in Central Queensland became the first local government area to introduce a plastic bag ban to reduce the amount of litter in the community.
A number of retailers, including Bunnings, IKEA, Aldi and Super Retail’s BCF and Supercheap Auto stores, have also voluntarily stopped using single-use plastic bags. Target phased out ‘free’ plastic bags in 2009, instead charging for heavier bags based on size. However, they reintroduced the lightweight bag in 2013.
A brief history of plastic bag ban initiatives
Customer support for a ban
A 2012 survey of consumers and grocers found that:
- Most primary shoppers (84%) reported taking reusable bags always or most of the time.
- The majority of shoppers (58%) supported the ban, with support strongest amongst younger age groups.
- Most shoppers (73%) did not feel they had to plan their shopping trips as a result of the ban, with 85% more likely to bring their own reusable bags.
- Most shoppers (69%) did not want to see the ban extended to cover all plastic bags.
- Two-thirds of shoppers would like the ban to be implemented nationally.
Individual states take the lead
To date, South Australia, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania have all introduced legislated bans on the supply of lightweight plastic shopping bags, with exemptions for biodegradable bags.
As an example, the Australian Capital Territory brought in a ban on lightweight single-use shopping bags in November 2011. A review of the ban in 2014 found it had reduced the plastic bag material going to landfill and had been successful in reducing the incidence of plastic bags as litter. Read the full report here >>
In 2015, the Queensland Government committed to investigate possible restrictions on single-use plastic bags.
The Queensland Government convened a plastic bag stakeholder workshop in October 2015. The workshop involved representatives from the business and retail, resource recovery, environmental and local government sectors. Workshop participants were asked to provide feedback on options to improve the management of plastic bags.
Following the workshop, bilateral meetings were held with key stakeholders and written submissions on the options for managing plastic bags were received from workshop participants. In February 2016, Queensland also co-hosted a Plastic Bag Roundtable with the New South Wales Government.
Feedback from discussions at these forums indicated that:
- The retail sector prefers voluntary measures, but agrees that any government regulation should be consistent with other jurisdictions and apply to all retailers who distribute single-use, lightweight plastic shopping bags.
- If regulation is introduced, the retail sector favours a ban on the supply of lightweight plastic bags, rather than a charge.
- There is no support for exempting degradable or biodegradable bags from a ban, due to concerns over their environmental impact.
- There is consensus in the environment sector for measures to also restrict the use of other plastic bags, principally heavier-weight department store bags.
- All stakeholders agreed on the need for an effective communication and education program to support any regulation, and a lengthy transition period to allow the retail sector and consumers to make preparations.
A public discussion paper was released late 2016, with a deadline of 27th February 2017. The response was overwhelming, with the government receiving over 26,000 submissions, with approximately 96% in favour of action on plastic bags.
Based on this consultation and feedback, the Queensland Government has made the decision to:
Ban the supply of single-use, lightweight plastic bags with no exemption for biodegradable bags
Work with retailers on voluntary actions to reduce the use of heavier-weight department store bags.
The main advantages of taking this approach are:
- ease of administration
- simplicity for retailers and customers
- consistency between retailers to avoid unfair advantage
- certainty of environmental outcome
- consistency with other jurisdictions that have implemented bag bans.
Obviously, plastic is a bigger issue than bags and bottles and that the end-of-life management of other problematic plastic items will need to be investigated in the future; however action on these two issues provides a starting place for future work.
More information and background on the Queensland Government’s decision can be found at www.ehp.qld.gov.au/waste.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
Approximately 900 million single-use lightweight plastic bags are used in Queensland each year.
The majority of these bags end up in landfill; however around 2 per cent of the bags are littered—which means up to 16 million bags entering the environment in Queensland each year.
Although they represent only a small proportion of the litter stream, plastic bags are a highly conspicuous source of plastic pollution that can be avoided. Whether littered or dumped in tips, lightweight plastic bags tend to be picked up by the wind – travelling great distances, causing damage to wildlife and impacting on the visual amenity of an area.
The size of the problem
- Australians use over 10 million plastic bags every day (4-6 billion per year)
- Approximately 900 million single-use lightweight plastic bags are used in QLD every year
- On average, every Queenslander uses 200 single-use plastic bags every year
- Of the large number of bags supplied, less than 4% are recycled
- Nationwide we dump almost 4 billion recyclable bags per year and approximately 50 million are littered.
Did you know? The average life span (the amount of time we use it) of a plastic bag is 20 minutes but a plastic bag’s components can last up to 1000 years in landfill or the environment.
Impacts on the environment
Recent CSIRO research has shown that plastic pollution in coastal waterways is killing and seriously impacting on marine wildlife, notably endangered leatherback turtles, vulnerable green turtles and seabird chicks.
The research notes that some marine turtles will preferentially eat plastic bags. When plastic bags break down in micro-pieces, the chemical additives and plastic compounds are able to more easily enter food chains creating cumulative risks for animals and humans.
The CSIRO studies suggest that by 2050, 95% of all sea birds will have plastics in their gut.
It is estimated that globally over 1 million sea birds and over 100,000 mammals die every year as a result of plastic. These creatures die through ingestion mistaking it as food or from entanglement in plastic items. Consumed debris may starve animals by preventing ingestion of food, reducing absorption of nutrients, mechanical blockage or impairment of the digestive system resulting in internal wounds and ulceration. When plastics are regurgitated as food to chicks by their parents, physical impacts and internal ulcerations are likely to lower survival rates.
A critical issue for Queensland
A substantial amount of research indicates that the Great Barrier Reef is suffering from the impacts of plastic litter pollution. Apart from discarded fishing gear, plastic bags are the most dangerous item of marine debris in terms of potential for wildlife to become entangled in or ingest the bags.
The Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2014 identified marine debris and plastics as a major threat to the health of the reef. It was found that between 2008 and 2014, 683,000 items of marine debris were recovered within the marine park.
In addition, plastic bags break down creating microplastics that are so small that they have the huge potential to affect virtually all marine life. “When things get that small, it targets up for 96 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, which are invertebrates, to potentially start ingesting them. They can enter the bloodstream through the gut, and then they can circulate in the bloodstream directly entering cells and tissues of these animals”, says researcher Professor Emma Johnston, from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science.
Marine Biologist Dr. Kathy Townsend from the Moreton Bay Research Station, University of QLD, estimates that approximately 30% of the turtles she autopsies have plastics, including plastic bags, in their intestinal tract. Marine turtles are particularly vulnerable to floating debris as some species of marine turtles are thought to mistake plastic bags and other similar items for jellyfish prey.
Additionally, a significant number of dead whales and dolphins have been found to ingest sufficient plastics to have caused fatal blockages. According to the Boomerang Alliance, in August 2000, an eight metre Bryde’s whale died soon after becoming stranded on a Cairns beach. An autopsy found that the whale’s stomach was tightly packed with 6 square metres of plastic, including many single-use lightweight plastic bags.
The cost of plastic litter
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report in 2014, Valuing Plastics: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry, which identifies that plastics finding their way into the world’s oceans costs approximately AUD$17.3 billion per year in environmental damage to marine ecosystems; and the total natural capital cost of plastic used in the consumer goods industry estimated to be more than AUD$99 billion per year.
Examples of the impacts on the economy associated with marine plastic pollution include:
- Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) estimates that the cost to the tourism, fishing and shipping industries was AUD$1.6billion in our region;
- Local authorities have to bear the cost of cleaning up plastic litter from beaches, maintaining litter traps and bins etc. The cost on local government to manage litter in NSW is approximately $132 million per year. These costs are ultimately passed onto residents and businesses.
- Given the importance that tourism and eco-tourism play in Queensland’s economy and job market, the cost of plastic pollution is substantial.
CONTAINER REFUND SCHEME
The Queensland Government will introduce a container refund scheme on 1 July 2018.
Empty beverage (drink) containers contribute to the volume of litter in Queensland. Litter has serious environmental, amenity and public health impacts and is something that can be prevented. Beverage container litter is largely associated with consumption in open air settings such as parks, beaches, malls and car parks.
Queensland’s recycling rate is also one of the lowest in Australia, currently sitting at around 44%.
The introduction of a statewide scheme will provide an incentive for people to collect and return containers for recycling in exchange for a refund payment. This will help to:
- reduce the amount of drink container litter that enters the environment
- increase Queensland’s recycling rate
The scheme will also provide social enterprise, community and regional and remote area benefits by creating new job and recycling opportunities. It will also provide recycling opportunities for communities that do not currently have access to kerbside recycling services.
During extensive public consultation on the discussion paper Implementing Queensland’s Container Refund Scheme (PDF, 3.0M), released in 2017, the Queensland Government received overwhelming public and community support for the introduction of the scheme. See a summary of results from the consultation – Implementing the Container Refund Scheme in Queensland (PDF, 305K).
Under the Scheme, a 10 cent refund will be provided for eligible, empty beverage containers between 150ml and 3l in size that are returned to a participating container refund point.
How will the Container Refund Scheme work?
Queensland’s Container Refund Scheme is a product stewardship arrangement with the costs of operating the scheme and recovering the containers for recycling paid for by beverage manufacturers. This means that beverage manufacturers will be taking responsibility for ensuring that the environmental impacts from the empty beverage containers are reduced.
A Product Responsibility Organisation (PRO) will be responsible for running and administering the scheme. The PRO will be responsible for ensuring that an effective and efficient scheme operates in Queensland and that there is convenient and statewide access to container refund points.
Queenslanders will be able to return eligible containers that attract a 10c refund via a container refund point. A series of container refund points will be established across Queensland which will collect eligible empty containers in exchange for the payment of a refund. These container refund points may operate on a permanent, temporary or mobile basis.
For Queenslanders who prefer to donate their beverage container to a community group, sports club or another organisation, a number of container return points will be available across the state. Collecting donated eligible empty containers will allow these community groups to generate funds to supplement their revenue and continue to operate.
Information regarding the location of refund and return points will be made available ahead of the scheme commencing on 1 July 2018.
Which containers are included in the scheme?
Most aluminium, glass, PET, HDPE, steel and liquid paperboard beverage containers between 150ml and 3L will be eligible under the scheme.
After a period of transition, all eligible containers will also be required to display a refund marking that will make it easy for people to see which containers can be returned for a refund.
Which containers will be excluded from the scheme?
A number of different types of containers will not be eligible for a refund under the scheme. These include:
- plain milk containers
- glass containers which have contained wine or pure spirits
- large containers (1L or more) that have contained flavoured milk, pure juice, cask wine or cask water
- cordial or vegetable juice containers
- sachets above 250ml that have contained wine
- registered health tonics
See the full list of inclusions and exclusions (PDF, 52K).
What should you do now?
Continue to use existing recycling options for your empty beverage containers both at- and away-from-home
If you are out bushwalking or enjoying the environment please remember not to litter and take any empty beverage containers (and other empty packaging) with you until you get to a bin.
In the lead up to 1 July 2018, keep an eye out for information about the Container Refund Scheme including container refund points and container return points (where you can ‘donate’ your containers to organisations such as Scouts, Surf Lifesaving and other community and charitable organisations) in your area.
To receive updates about the scheme, please subscribe to WASTENOTes.
More information on the scheme can be found at: https://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/waste/container-refund-scheme/
Please note: the advice provided on this website is designed to assist retailers in understanding the bag ban and other initiatives to weigh up options but is by no means exhaustive. Each retail business should assess and make decisions based on their own advice and situation.
- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – Valuing Plastics: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry.
- CSIRO – Sources, distribution and fate of marine debris.
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority – Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2014.
- Boomerang Alliance – The Impacts of marine plastic pollution.