Plastic bags: an update

Australia New South Wales
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Two main types of 'single use' plastic bags are used in Australia:

  • 'Singlet' bags , or lightweight plastic bags, made of high density polyethylene (HDPE) – used mainly in supermarkets, fresh produce, convenience stores and take-away food outlets, and other non - branded applications; and
  • 'Boutique' bags made of low density polyethylene (LDPE) – generally branded and used by stores selling higher value goods such as department stores, clothing and shoe outlets.

Political attention over the past decade has focused on reducing the use of lightweight plastic bags for several reasons . They cause harm to animals and habitats and decrease the visual amenity of urban, rural and natural vistas. Plastic bags and fragments of bags may persist in the environment for many hundreds of years. Plastic bags have also become a symbol of unnecessary consumption.

Suggestions proposed for reducing or ending plastic bag usage, including banning plastic bags, introducing a levy and using alternatives, have strengths and weaknesses. For example, recent life cycle analyses of plastic bag alternatives, such as the current generation of biodegradable bags, have found that some alternatives have a larger environmental impact than lightweight plastic bags.

This paper does not cover research on the strengths and weaknesses of different options for reducing lightweight plastic bag usage. These are dealt with in an earlier Research Service publication, and in several recent papers.

Following an overview of lightweight plastic bag use in NSW and Australia, this paper outlines the management of lightweight plastic bags in NSW, by the Council of Australian Governments, and in the other States and Territories.

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