ABOUT THE BAN

ABOUT THE BAN

Victorians have been using over 1 billion plastic shopping bags every year.

The majority of these bags end up in landfill and around 10 million end up as litter, polluting our environment and endangering our wildlife.

When the ban comes into effect it will be illegal for any retailer in Victoria to provide lightweight plastic shopping bags and for suppliers to withhold or give misleading information about non-compliant bags.

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VIC BAG BAN FAQs

VIC BAG BAN FAQs

The Victorian Government will implement a state-wide ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags from November 2019.

The ban applies to ALL retailers – including supermarkets, greengrocers, bakeries, pharmacies, clothes stores, restaurants, cafes, markets, food outlets, and many more.

Retailers - and bag suppliers - need to be aware of the bag ban legislation, what is banned and the implications if you do not comply. Please click on the sections below for the essential info...

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1. When does the bag ban come into effect?

From November 2019, retailers will not be allowed to supply lightweight plastic shopping bags in Victoria.

It will be illegal for:

  • a retailer to supply a banned plastic bag;
  • a person who supplies or manufactures plastic bags to give false or misleading information about banned bags.

Retailers should cease buying banned bags as soon as possible and remove any existing stock before the ban comes into effect.

If you are left with unused stock once the ban comes into effect, you cannot provide these to customers and compensation is not available.

2. Which bags are banned?

The ban will apply to all lightweight plastic shopping bags with a thickness below 36 microns, including degradable, biodegradable and compostable bags.

Retailers will not be allowed to provide banned bags to customers, whether new or reused.

3. Which plastic bags are allowed?

The ban will NOT apply to the following bags:

  • Produce bags used for unpackaged foodstuffs (like fruit, meat or seafood)
  • Garbage bags & bin-liners
  • Dog waste or nappy bags
  • Essential product packaging (eg. bread bag)

Retailers cannot use these bags as substitutes for banned bags.

4. Which alternative bags are allowed?

The ban will NOT apply to the following bags:

  • Paper or cardboard bags
  • Cloth, jute or hessian bags
  • Non-woven reusable bags
  • Heavyweight reusable plastic bags

Many retailers are now choosing not to offer bags at all. Some retailers are incorporating handles into product packaging (eg. shoe boxes with rope handles), or providing empty cardboard stock boxes for customers at the check-out.

Simply asking consumers if they need a bag can substantially reduce the quantity of bags that consumers take.

If you decide to provide bags, retailers are encouraged to adopt paper, cloth, jute or hessian alternatives and to check that these bags are made as sustainably as possible and with durability and recyclability in mind. Recyclability is improved when bags are made of one consistent type of material such as cardboard or plastic, and not highly waxed or coloured with dark inks.

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the way in which products are made/sourced and how sustainable they are. Their purchase from you may be informed by such considerations.

5. Which bags should I avoid?

The NRA does NOT recommend that retailers use plastic shopping bags close to the minimum thickness as your business could be exposed to substantial risks such as:

  • inconsistent thicknesses across the bag could risk non-compliance
  • having to defend the bags because they appear too similar to the one it replaced
  • missed opportunity to reduce cost burdens as consumers are more willing to pay for sustainable options
  • consumer complaints (96% of submissions to Government were in favour of a ban - strong indication of consumer preference)

Writing on the bag or carton, such as “Bag Ban Approved” or claims of compliance, are not a guarantee that the bags are compliant in Victoria. No plastic bag has been officially approved.

Help available:

You can contact the NRA's hotline (1800 817 723) if you are unsure about the information you have been provided by your supplier.

6. Why are biodegradable bags banned?

Current research indicates that degradable, biodegradable and compostable plastic bags may not be any better than standard plastic bags especially when disposed incorrectly.

  • Degradable” plastic bags are usually made of plastic that breaks down into smaller pieces over time, but does not decompose or disappear. Degradable plastics are worse for the environment as the microplastics enter the soil and food chain. These bags will be banned if they have a thickness below 36 microns.
  • Biodegradable” plastic bags are typically produced from a combination of organics materials (e.g. corn starch, sugar cane, cellulose) and chemical additives. These bags will be banned if they have a thickness below 36 microns.
  • Compostable” plastic bags are made of a type of biodegradable plastic that degrades under specific composting conditions, and most need to go through commercial composting facilities or reach temperatures over 50 degrees to actually break down. These bags will be banned if they have a thickness below 36 microns.

All of these bags will be included in the ban as they harm the environment and wildlife if disposed incorrectly.

Please note that biodegradable bags 35 microns or less that are allowed in other states, such as South Australia, will not be allowed in Victoria.

Read more about the Government's decision to include these bags in the ban in the Discussion Paper >

7. Who does the ban apply to?

The ban applies to any person or business that sells goods in trade or commerce - including online stores and markets.

The legislation also prohibits any person (such as a supplier or manufacturer) from providing false or misleading information about whether a bag is compliant.

8. What are the penalties if we don't comply?

To ensure that all retailers are on an even playing field, and that real change is accomplished, fines will apply.

Under the legislation there will be two offences that will attract fines for non-compliance:

  • Supply offence: Penalties will apply to retailers providing a banned plastic bag to another person to use to carry goods the retailer sells from the retailer’s premises.
  • Information offence: Penalties will apply to a person who supplies or manufactures plastic bags who gives information that the person knows, or reasonably ought to know, is false or misleading (or withholds information) about the composition of a banned bag, or whether or not a bag is a banned plastic bag.

Significant financial penalties will apply for non-compliance.

9. How do I know if my bags are banned?

Retailers should take steps to understand the ban and carefully consider their options:

5 STEPS TO MANAGE THE BAN >

Even if your bags are technically compliant you may want to consider alternative options as the continued use of plastic bags may not be supported by your customers.

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10. Do we need to provide a bag?

You are not required to provide customers with a bag.

The bag ban presents an opportunity to assess whether you really need to offer bags at all.

Retailers in states with existing bag bans report up to 90% decrease in the volume of bags they now provide, and this is important to consider when weighing up more sustainable alternatives, comparing prices and ordering new stock.

11. Can we use recycled banned bags?

No, retailers cannot supply banned bags to customers, regardless of whether they are new or reused.

For example, community organisations, charity stores and market stallholders should start to phase out these banned bags as it will be illegal to supply them.

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12. How will the ban be enforced?

The ban will be enforced by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and supported by community reporting mechanisms.

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13. What should we do with leftover banned bags?

All retailers and suppliers should try to reduce stocks of banned bags as quickly as possible as compensation will not be available for unused stock.

It is important to note that suppliers face fines for providing false or misleading information about banned bags.

Retailers must phase out existing stock of banned bags and can be fined from November 2019.

If you are left with unused stock at the ban deadline, you can recycle soft plastics at a local recycler like REDcycle or you may choose to use leftover bags as bin-liners or for other stock-room purposes.

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14. What about our stores in other states?

Bans on lightweight plastic shopping bags are in place across Australia including:

  • QLD
  • WA
  • SA
  • NT
  • ACT
  • TAS

Retailers who operate stores in multiple states need to be aware that the ban legislation varies in each state.

The NRA has compiled details and links on each existing ban. Read more >

BACKGROUND TO THE BAN

BACKGROUND TO THE BAN

The impacts of plastic pollution are a real concern to the Victorian Government and community.

Since announcing the ban in October 2017, the Victorian Government has received over 8,000 submissions from the public regarding plastic pollution, with 96% in favour of a ban on lightweight plastic bags.

This ban is just the first step in the Government’s broader agenda to reduce single-use, unnecessary and problematic plastics. Legislation to give effect to the ban is currently being prepared for introduction into the Victorian Parliament.

The following information is adapted from the 'Reducing the impacts of plastics on the Victorian environment' Discussion Paper, published by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

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The size of the problem

Plastic pollution is an urgent environmental problem.

Globally, thousands of tonnes of plastic enter our waterways and oceans each year. It has been estimated that ocean surface waters alone could contain over 5 trillion plastic pieces, weighing over 250,000 tonnes.(1)

Plastics in the environment break up into smaller and smaller pieces over time. This means that the impacts of plastic pollution are long term, and can become increasingly difficult to manage.

While Victoria has relatively low litter rates, litter from lightweight plastic bags poses a particular problem. Plastic bags are highly mobile and can easily be blown into open spaces and waterways. In the environment, they can pose a danger to marine animals. A study by the University of Queensland found 30 percent of turtles autopsied were found to have plastics, including plastic bags, in their intestinal tract.(2)

Currently, every Australian state and territory except Victoria and New South Wales have banned lightweight plastic shopping bags. This is also the case in countries such as China, France, Kenya and Bangladesh. Given the significant environmental impacts of plastic bags, it is important Victoria takes action.

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Understanding the problem

Tackling plastic pollution is important. But in order to find the best solution, we must make sure that we fully understand the problem.

Plastic products are useful

Plastics are an important part of our daily lives. Because most plastics are strong, lightweight, and inexpensive, they have a variety of uses including in packaging, transport, healthcare, construction and electronics. For example, plastic can provide a hygienic barrier that keeps food fresh longer, reducing food waste.

Plastic consumption is growing

As a result of its versatility, global plastic production has undergone rapid and consistent growth. Over the next 20 years, plastic production is expected to double again, and almost quadruple by 2050.(3)

Plastic waste

Plastic waste represents around 10 per cent of all waste disposed of to landfill in Victoria.(4) Reducing the amount of plastic - and in fact, all waste - that we send to landfill would reduce any future need for new or expanded landfills in Victoria.

Around 1.5 million tonnes of plastic were used in Australia in 2012–13, about 65 kilograms of plastic for each Australian. More than one third of this was single-use disposable packaging.(5)

Victoria currently leads the way in plastic recycling, reprocessing almost half of the national total.(6)

But compared to our overall recycling rate of 67 per cent, Victoria’s plastic recycling rate is relatively low. As a state, we recycled just 28 per cent of the 570,000 tonnes of plastic waste that we produced in 2014.(7)

Many plastic items are used only once before being discarded. If we used fewer single-use plastic items, the material and energy resources used to produce them could be put to better use.

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The litter problem

Plastic items that are not appropriately disposed of can pollute our environment.

And as plastic production increases, plastic pollution is likely to grow.

Globally, it is estimated that at least 8 million tonnes of plastic will enter the world’s oceans each year — equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. At current rates, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030, and four per minute by 2050.(8)

In Australia, plastic is the main source of litter in open spaces like beaches, highways and parks. Many plastic bags are used away from the usual shop-to-home route. Plastic bag litter is also associated with purchases consumed away from home, such as takeaway food and drink.

Not all litter is deliberate.

Lightweight plastic, like plastic bags, can be windblown and escape from landfills, becoming litter.(9)

Right now, cleaning up litter costs the Victorian Government around $80 million each year.(10)

As well as the impact on wildlife, plastic bags are unsightly in the environment, creating visual pollution and impacts on tourism.

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Impact on the marine environment

All plastics, including plastic bags, are persistent in the environment.

How do plastics end up in our waterways?

When it rains, litter is washed from our streets into waterways through our storm water system. Around 95 per cent of beach litter is transported in this way.(11) Around 75 per cent of all litter on Australian beaches is plastic. And because plastic does not break down easily, it will continue to accumulate in our oceans.(12) 

How does plastic harm wildlife?

Plastic litter can harm marine wildlife of all sizes. Seabirds, turtles and marine mammals are particularly vulnerable to swallowing or becoming tangled in larger items, like plastic bags.

Once plastic litter is ingested or entangles an animal, that animal can have great difficulty ridding themselves of this debris. This can lead to reduced mobility, disrupted feeding, suffocation, and death. Any one piece of plastic litter can cause these impacts for multiple animals, because long after a marine animal is killed or escapes, the plastic remains in the marine environment.

If ingested, a plastic bag does not breakdown and can block the intestinal tract of the animal consuming it, causing the animal to die of starvation. Plastic bags and plastic items are also often buoyant meaning the animal cannot dive to feed, escape collisions or evade predators.

Some plastic breaks down, what's the impact?

Over time, plastic can degrade or break down into smaller particles, known as microplastics.

Microplastics can be ingested by small organisms, potentially creating significant health impacts for these organisms.(13)  Microplastics can also accumulate and disperse other pollutants, such as heavy metals.(14) These pollutants can be ingested by small organisms along with the microplastic particle, and then potentially move up the food chain, causing even further damage, even to humans.

Global impact

Globally the impact of plastics on the marine environment is significant. It is estimated that one million seabirds and over 100,000 mammals die every year as a result of plastic ingestion or entanglement.

In coastal and offshore waters, most floating debris is plastic. The density of plastic in oceans ranges from a few thousand pieces of plastic per square kilometre to more than 40,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre. 

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'Environmentally friendly' plastic

The names used for some bio-plastic products suggest that these products are an environmentally beneficial alternative to traditional plastics.

These alternatives are not always as environmentally-friendly as they appear.

A littered biodegradable or compostable bag can present similar entanglement and ingestion risks to marine animals as typical plastic items. If sent to landfill, bioplastics can produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

‘Environmentally friendly’ plastic products are often labelled as degradable, biodegradable or compostable.

Terminology explained

  • Biodegradable: Made from natural material (such as corn-starch) which breaks down into organic material and water over time.
  • Compostable: A subset of biodegradable plastic, made from material assessed to be compostable in a commercial composting environment in accordance with Australian Standards.
  • Degradable: A plastic bag that can be broken down into smaller pieces by chemical or biological processes.

Biodegradable plastics can also contaminate plastic waste collected for recycling. As they are not always easily identifiable or easy to separate out, biodegradable plastics can lower the quality of products made with recycled plastics.

Commercially compostable bags are increasingly used for collecting food scraps. However it is important to note that many products labelled as ‘compostable’, including bags, only decompose in commercial composters, and cannot be composted at home.

Degradable plastics break down into smaller pieces (microplastics) and can be even worse for the environment compared to standard plastics as they are almost impossible to collect and can infiltrate the food chain.

 

Given that impacts on the environment are unlikely to be improved by a switch to degradable, biodegradable and compostable plastics, the Victorian Government has included lightweight biodegradable, degradable and compostable plastic shopping bags in the ban.

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The 'single-use' question

Many previous bans have referred to banned bags as "single-use" plastic bags but many consumers reuse these bags as bin-liners.

While reusing bags is a positive step, most of these bags are used only twice (once to carry your shopping home and then as a bin-liner) before they end up as litter or landfill.

Considering a plastic bag can last up to 1000 years and the impact it can have on the environment and wildlife during this lifetime is devastating, a plastic bag would need to be used many times before its impact was minimised.

Bag bans around the world

Worldwide, the impact of plastic shopping bags has received significant attention, and there have been many attempts to reduce their use.

More than 30 countries have implemented voluntary or regulatory approaches to reduce the use of lightweight plastic bags.

Countries such as Bangladesh, South Africa, China, Ethiopia, Eritrea, France, Italy, Kenya, Morocco and Tanzania have banned plastic bag use. England, Ireland, Wales, Denmark and Germany have used point-of-sales charges to reduce plastic bag use.

Though there is no national plastic bag ban or charge in the USA, over 100 local counties and municipalities have plastic bag bans or charges, and California has a state ban on plastic bags.

Australia's response

In Australia the most widely used policy measure to address plastic bag use is to ban lightweight plastic bags.

In May 2009, South Australia legislated a ban that prevented retailers from providing lightweight plastic shopping bags. The Northern Territory implemented an identical ban in September 2011, followed by the ACT in November 2011 and Tasmania in November 2013. These bans did not include biodegradable and compostable plastic bags.

In July 2017, all Australian environment ministers agreed to work together to explore options to reduce thicker plastic shopping bags, potentially under a voluntary code of practice.

In 2018, Queensland and Western Australia banned lightweight plastic shopping bags and based on contemporary research, have included degradable, biodegradable and compostable bags in their bans.

By the end of 2019, 7 of the 8 states and territories across Australia (all except NSW) will have banned lightweight plastic shopping bags.

Some retailers have never offered lightweight plastic shopping bags (eg. Aldi), some have already phased out plastic bags (eg. Bunnings) and in June 2018, Coles and Woolworths supermarkets ceased offering lightweight plastic shopping bags across Australia, including in Victoria and NSW where bans were not in place.

Consumer support for a ban

Community support for action on plastic bags has been growing.

People increasingly understand the environmental impacts of plastic waste and the need to stop millions of bags entering the waste stream every year.

Public campaigns such as #banthebag and ABC’s television show, War on Waste, have raised awareness and generated significant public support for a ban on lightweight single-use plastic bags.

Victorians are passionate about reducing plastic pollution.

The Victorian Government’s three-month public consultation in 2017-18 on the approach to banning lightweight plastic shopping bags attracted an overwhelming response of more than 8,000 submissions.

96% of submissions supported a ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags.

See full report here >

Ultimately retailers need to be aware of consumer opinions or they face going out of business.

This very high level of public support for the ban (or high level of disapproval of plastic bags) should be carefully considered by retailers when weighing up alternative options.

Retailers and consumers should still be aware that it may take time for everyone to remember their reusable bags, and retailers need to be prepared to handle queries.

Experiences in other states indicate that it only takes a few weeks for most of us to adjust to the ban, and this can be minimised by transitioning in advance and giving your customers and staff plenty of notice. 

See 5 STEPS TO MANAGE THE BAN >

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SOURCES

Sources:
From 'Reducing the impacts of plastics on the Victorian environment' Discussion Paper, published by the Department of Environment, Land, water and Planning.

  1. Eriksen M, Lebreton LCM, Carson HS, Thiel M, Moore CJ, Borerro JC, et al. (2014) Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea. PLoS ONE 9(12): e111913. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0111913
  2. Boomerang Alliance (2016) Threat Abatement Plan: Marine plastic pollution. Retrieved from: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/boomerangalliance/pages/494/attachments/original/1480367461/TAP_Final_28112016.pdf?1480367461
  3. World Economic Forum (2016). The New Plastics Economy – Rethinking the Future of Plastics (p. 24 - 25)Retrieved from http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf
  4. Sustainability Victoria Waste projection portal. Retrieved from: http://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/services-and-advice/business/investment-facilitation-service/waste-data-portal/waste-projection-model
  5. Commonwealth of Australia (2016). Toxic tide: the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia (p. 8 – 9). Retrieved from http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/Marine_plastics/~/media/Committees/ec_ctte/Marine_plastics/Report/report.pdf
  6. Sustainability Victoria (n.d.). Plastics recovery in Victoria. Retrieved from http://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/publications-and-research/research/victorian-waste-and-recycling-data-results-201415/victorian-recycling-industry-annual-report-201415/plastics-recovery-in-victoria
  7. Sustainability Victoria Waste projection portal. Retrieved from: http://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/services-and-advice/business/investment-facilitation-service/waste-data-portal/waste-projection-model
  8. World Economic Forum (2016). The New Plastics EconomyRethinking the future of plastics (p. 7). Retrieved from http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf
  9. Nolan-ITU (2002) Plastic shopping bags – analysis of levies and environmental impacts (prepared for the Department of Environment and Heritage) Retrieved from: https://www.environment.gov.au/archive/settlements/publications/waste/plastic-bags/pubs/analysis.pdf
  10. Victorian Government, Yarra and Bay. Retrieved from: http://yarraandbay.vic.gov.au/issues/litter
  11. Victorian Government, Yarra and Bay. Retrieved from: http://yarraandbay.vic.gov.au/issues/litter
  12. Evans K, Bax NJ, Smith DC (2016). Marine environment: Marine debris. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/marine-environment/topic/2016/marine-debris, DOI 10.4226/94/58b657ea7c296
  13. Commonwealth of Australia (2016). Toxic tide: the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia (p. 8 – 9). Retrieved from http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/Marine_plastics/~/media/Committees/ec_ctte/Marine_plastics/Report/report.pdf
  14. Brennecke, D., Duarte, B., Paiva, F., Cacador, I., Canning-Clode, J. (2016) Microplastics as a vector for heavy metal contamination, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 178, pp. 189-195

Please note: the advice provided on this website is designed to assist retailers in understanding the ban and weighing up options but is by no means exhaustive. Each retail business should assess and make decisions based on their own advice and situation.