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Australia Backs Away From Plastic Shopping Bag Ban
Government unmoved by similar ban in China
Dr John Cokley (johncokley)     Print Article 
Published 2008-07-29 05:34 (KST)   
Australia has the power to impose a national ban on plastic single-use shopping bags but the government will not do it, says Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

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This is despite a total ban on plastic shopping bags being enforced in China from June 1 this year, and a growing wave of similar bans in the United States and Europe.

Consumers in the People's Republic of China had been using about three billion plastic bags a day.

Even countries around the developing world, including Bangladesh, Bhutan and Zanzibar, are moving to eliminate use of the filmy plastic shopping bag.

Australians used nearly four billion of the flimsy lightweight shopping bags in 2005, a reduction from the nearly six billion consumed in 2002.

Minister Garrett is on record as urging a total phase-out of the bags by January 2009 but based on what he said today, achieving this looks extremely unlikely.

"It is within the power of the Commonwealth to do that [impose a ban] but that's not the policy position at the moment," former Midnight Oil rock singer Garrett told a packed lunch crowd in Brisbane at noon local time on Monday.

Australia's Environment Minister Peter Garrett.
©2008 John Cokley
Instead, the government has opted for what it calls collaborative federalism, where it seeks to obtain a joint decision with the six states and two self-governing territories about the issue.

But the overwhelming position of the states and territories is away from a ban on the plastic shopping bags.

"Ministers from state and federal levels met in April to discuss the issue of plastic bags," Garrett said before the lunch.

"There was a range of positions put but only South Australia proposed a ban on plastic shopping bags."

Victoria proposed a trial 10 cent per bag levy to see whether this would reduce public use of the micro-thin high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bags.

Garrett said the trial would be evaluated when the country's environment ministers meet again on the issue in November.

At the current rate of reduction in Australia (two billion bags every three years), a total "phase-out" could not happen until 2011.

South Australia has opted to go it alone with a ban on use of single-use plastic bags from May next year.

Garrett told the lunch audience that he had recently banned a residential development in north Queensland, which he said would have interfered with the local rainforest and the habitat of the endangered and protected flightless bird, the southern cassowary.

"This is only the second time a proposal has been deemed 'clearly unacceptable' under the act and rejected outright," Garrett said.

"The other was an application to shoot an unspecified number of threatened grey-headed flying foxes in New South Wales."

He also announced that $2.25 billion Australian dollars had been allocated to the new "Caring for our Country" environmental fund, starting this month on July 1.

Protests against shale oil developments wait for Minister Garrett.
©2008 John Cokley

A group of environmentalists gathered outside the venue to protest against moves to develop a shale oil deposit near the Great Barrier Reef.

Garrett refused to comment on the shale oil development.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Dr John Cokley

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