Time to bin the plastic bag

May 30, 2018

Plastics washed up on the small and uninhabited Henderson Island in the south Pacific Ocean where more than 3500 additional pieces of litter wash ashore daily at just one of its beaches. (AAP Image/Supplied by Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies)

With Woolworths Group and Coles’ decision to phase out single-use plastic bags just weeks away, I have asked myself why this has not happened in Victoria sooner.

It has become almost a weekly occurrence that I see an image of a gorgeous blue whale, washed up on a beach somewhere, filled to the brim with plastics.

Even if you are a climate change sceptic or could not care less about the environment, it is clear plastics are causing incredible harm on marine life and to nature in general.

It is not a new phenomenon or idea to ban single-use plastic bags.

I recall times shopping with my mother as a small primary school child in my small home town of Corryong when the bags were banned.

The local supermarket and IGA had mounds of boxes for people to choose from but there were no plastic bags in sight.

But if we fast-forward a few years, I can also remember a time when the single-use plastic bags crept back into the checkouts and into our hands. Ending up, undoubtedly, in the stomach of a whale.

It seems this has been the perpetual nature of plastic bag bans.

My fellow colleagues who grew up in different decades in different areas share the same story.

The bags are banned. Customers must pay for a heavy-duty plastic bag if they need one. Customers get angry. Customers no longer have to pay. Single-use plastic bags re-appear.

It’s the classic cycle we’ve seen in the past.

Even when the far more practical calico bags became available — I remember a time you could not shop at Supre or Cotton On without receiving a pink cotton bag, adding to the ever-growing pile in your car — singe-use plastic bags soon crept back in.

Before I knew it, I was working behind the checkout at Woolworths while studying at university, providing people with hundreds of the single-use bags each day.

I saw just how many bags were used. I was using them. And there was a general disillusion, once again, about how detrimental single-use plastic bags are to the environment.

Last year, supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles announced they would ban the use of the bags in 2018.

Although Woolworths has since brought the date forward to June 20 and Coles is sticking to its planned July 1 ban, there is still much more work to be done in this space.

I applaud the companies for taking the first step in Victoria where our government has had to follow their lead.

But each and every time I shop at the supermarket I became aware of yet another fresh produce product packaged in huge amounts of plastic.

From loose lettuce leaves to bean sprouts, it is almost impossible to get anything other than a root vegetable without plastic packaging these days.

Now it’s time to catch up to Germany, and ban plastic straws and cotton buds.

- Tara Whitsed is a News journalist

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