Beyond the Plastic Bag

Brown Hill local, Liz Mason, attended the 'Beyond the Plastic Bag' seminar at Federation University Business School on 9 July 2019. A legal ban on lightweight single use plastic bags will come into effect in Victoria on1 November 2019. Liz took the time to share what she learnt with the Brown Hill community.

In opening, the Dean of Federation University Business School,Professor Lim, reported that researchers have been looking at consumption and production practices and decided to share their findings with the general public.

A Global View

Dr Vicki Little, a marketing researcher from Monash University in Malaysia, described how Malaysia tried to develop plastic bag policies due to waste being washed down into the rivers as the result of tsunamis. They looked at the global incidence, its effects and what they tell us about the way the world works. A plastic bag tax failed in Malaysia. Charges for plastic bags were rejected by consumers which they saw as an annoyance and subversive. Everyone switched to shopping on Saturdays when it was made a“free bag day”, which resulted in unhappy retailers. Consumers felt that litterers were responsible for the problem, not the bag itself.

Thinking Outside the Bag

La Vergne Lehmann, Executive Officer of the Grampians Central West Waste and Resource Recovery Group, spoke about plastic wrapping as a major waste.Soft plastics are recyclable but not in your kerbside recycling bin, only through the Redcycle bins in Coles and Woolworths.The average plastic bag is used for 12 minutes and takes up to 1000 years to break down, even though it is a modern convenience. She said that shopping habits changed in the early 1980s and plastic waste became a manufacturers,market and consumer problem.

Ms Lehmann spoke about 'Boomerang Bags', which is a global movement where volunteers make cloth bags for people to share. There are many social media groups focusing on recycling issues which is creating a social movement. People have started to take bags with them to the shops/market and changing our ways like this affects retailers.With consumer awareness increasing, reusable bags are now for sale. Some retailers still offer used cardboard boxes. South Australia will soon ban plastic cutlery, straws and stirrers.

What's Happening in Ballarat?

Councillor Belinda Coates from the City of Ballarat gave a local perspective. She said there has been a significant shift around environmental and economic issues in political spheres. The City of Ballarat supported the Victorian State Government to ban single use plastic bags in October 2017.

The City of Ballarat has strategic waste management actions. Cr Coates said that community education minimises waste and encourages avoiding single use plastic bags. Promotion by the City of Ballarat has included reuseable wallet bags being handed out at events and school visits.

There is an A-Z waste guide on the City of Ballarat's and the 'My Ballarat' magazine (delivered to 40,000 households) recently had an article titled, 'Putting a Stop to Plastic Pollution' (Autumn 2019 edition). This article was highlighted in the ABC's show 'War on Waste'.

The City of Ballarat also conducts kerbside audits which show a high level of contamination in recyclables, especially when they are bagged (they should be loose). Sometimes bagged garbage is put in recycle bins.

Also, not everything that is recyclable can go in the kerbside recycle bin. For example, E-waste (anything with an electrical plug) ,globes etc. However, paper, cardboard, glass jars and clean pizza boxes (no food) are OK.

How the Ban Affects Retailers

Emma Jennings from the National Retail Association spoke on behalf of retailers, saying a volume of one billion plastic bags are used per year with 10 million being discarded as rubbish. The effect of this includes damage to the food chain. I was horrified to hear that, on average, we each consume a credit card amount of microplastic per week.

Some reusable plastic bags do not comply with standards. There can be a $9,700 fine for an individual retailer and $48,000 for a corporation. They can be audited by the EPA (Environment Protection Authority) or the NRA(National Retailers Association).

Five steps for business:

1. Find alternatives to plastic bags.

2. Charge bag fees.

3. Phase out existing stock.

4. Train the team.

5. Inform customers.

Retailers are encouraged to use stock up by 31 October 2019 (or recycle via Redcycle bins).

Bag free hotline: 1800 817 723

Charity food stalls and Op. Shops cannot accept used plastic bags.

6 steps for businesses to going plastic free:

1. Place signage near the counter explaining the change and reminding customers to bring their own bags (posters are available).

2. Always ask customers whether they need a bag before giving them one.

3. Provide a reusable bag for sale and encourage your customers to use them.

4. Replace plastic bags with paper or accepted reusable bags. Have used cardboard boxes easily available to your customers.

5. Consider introducing a fee for the paper or accepted reusable bags to encourage customers to bring their own bag or introducing an incentive for bringing their own.

Take the next step and look at replacing any other disposable plastic items used in your business.

Liz Mason, Brown Hill Progress Association and Brown Hill Uniting Church

This article first appeared in Edition 20 of the Brown Hill Community Newsletter.