By HAYDEN WAUGH
Hundreds of people are expected at a beach clean-up in St Kilda tomorrow as part of a growing movement to ban plastic bags in Victoria.
More than 130,000 people have already signed a petition pushing for a ban on single-use, non-biodegradable plastic bags in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia.
Started on Channel 10’s The Project last month as a joint exercise with Clean Up Australia, the campaign has quickly gained momentum, with the aim of increasing pressure on state environment ministers before their meeting in late June.
Environment groups the Boomerang Alliance and Sea Shepherd Australia – aided by Polly the Plastic Pollution Penguin and the plastic bag monster – are behind the beach event, at 10am tomorrow (Saturday, May 20), in support of #BanTheBag.
Plastic bags are banned in South Australia, Tasmania, The ACT and The Northern Territory and Queensland announced a statewide ban last year, which will start in July 2018.
Since the Federal Government and Australian Retailers Association’s plastic bag reduction program ended in 2005, after running for two years and resulting in a 41 to 44 per cent reduction in plastic bag use, little action has been taken by Victoria, New South Wales or Western Australia.
Plastic bags are estimated to kill about one million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals each year. Most Australian states are lagging behind the rest of the world on bans, including China, South Africa, India, France, many US states and many East African countries.
Plastic bags are made out of polyethylene, which is produced from crude oil and natural gas, both of which are non-renewable resources. The amount of energy to produce just 8.7 plastic bags could power a car for 1km.
Just this week, a tiny island in the south Pacific was reported to be of the most polluted places in the world, with 38 million pieces of plastic waste washed up on its shores.
All three Australian premiers targeted in the #BanTheBag campaign have expressed some support for bans.
The NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews have said they support the idea, but would prefer it to be national.
The Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has said he supports a ban, but wants it to be implemented at a local council level.
TWO CASE STUDIES
Kenya this year successfully banned plastic bags after two previous attempts, and South Australia banned plastic bags in 2009.
International – Kenya
This year, after two unsuccessful attempts in the past decade, Kenya passed legislation to ban plastic bags.
The ban is set to take effect from September this year, after Bills in 2007 and 2011 met with fierce opposition from retailers and manufacturers.
Kenyan activist James Wakibia, part of a lobby group called BanPlasticsKE, has been campaigning to end plastic bag production in Kenya since 2013, when plastic manufacturing was increasing by one-third.
“I got really angered with the state of solid waste management in Nakuru’s biggest landfill,” he said.
“Kenya’s plastic use increased partly because of an equally growing population and a growing middle class. During that time, bigger shopping malls have opened and others have expanded, resulting in more and more plastic bags.”
While other African nations such as Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Cameroon have introduced bans, they’ve shown mixed results. As recently as last year, Cameroon was grappling with a plastic bag black market created by a surge in the value of plastic materials.
To combat this demand, the Cameroonian government gave financial incentives to those recycling plastic at about AUS$23 a kilo in 2014 but has since struggled with funding on several occasions. Up until 2016, businesses have been unable to find workable alternatives – often using cardboard boxes.
In Kenya, the picturesque Lake Nakuru has been heralded as a (UNESCO) heritage site, as well as a Ramsar site of international importance under the Convention on Wetlands.
However, plastics are an environmental disaster there, Mr Wakibia says.
“There is a report that over 20 tonnes of plastic debris are collected every year [in Lake Nakuru]. That’s a cause of concern to everybody,” he said.
“Besides being habitats for malaria-causing mosquitoes, in the coast, plastic bags from the mainland get to the ocean and kill lots of marine life.”
Lake Nakuru, a wetland area of international importance, has become a “disaster” because of plastic waste, James Wakibia says.
Nearby Rwanda successfully enacted a ban in 2008. A sweeping removal of all variations of polythene bags has led to some retailers moving to single-use paper bags, at a marginal cost to consumers.
Rwandan border patrols still maintain heightened security to deal with smuggled plastics out of neighbouring Congo. Authorities have been clamping down on these operations and recycling any plastic into other items such as tarps or camping equipment.
With a decade’s worth of accumulated pollution and a citizenry that, previously, was not “environment conscious”, Mr Wakibia says he is sure Kenya is ready to learn from its mistakes.
“We may have failed to see the 2007 and 2011 bans work, but this time around Kenyans want nothing less,” he said.
“We have to make sacrifices for the environment, which is our only home.”
Domestic – South Australia
As the first Australian state to impose bans on plastic bags in 2009, South Australia has seen the environmental benefits first-hand.
“Implementation was successful because retailers, retailer workers and shoppers were well prepared for the ban through the comprehensive byobags.com.au education campaign,” a SA government spokesperson said.
South Australia was the first Australian state to ban plastic bags.
“The ban has effectively removed an estimated 400 million plastic bags from circulation in South Australia each year that would otherwise have ended up in landfill.”
The government spokesman said widely available information on the matter and a strong public response allowed the state to successfully ban the bag.
“The EPA, which monitors compliance of the ban, has between 2008/09 and 2015/16 conducted around 1160 inspections, with 89 warnings and 1 expiation,” the spokesperson said.
“While the state cannot solve the plastic bag problem of the entire nation, we can show leadership in our own backyard by being the first to crack down on plastic bag pollution.”