Plastic bags are out, but is the alternative better?

By Liana Walker

Plastic shopping bags will become a thing of the past with Queensland parliament unanimously banning single use bags in parliament on Tuesday.

From July 1st, 2018 the ban will come into play, with major grocery retailers Coles and Woolworths implementing their own schemes nationally.  

The stop to the plastic bag distribution will bring Queensland in line with other states including South Australia, Northern Territory and ACT.  However, the Queensland government has taken things a step further, banning both degradable and biodegradable shopping bags. 

Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Dr Steven Miles said banning the bags will have a massive impact on the state’s environment. 

“Right now a billion plastic bags are issued in Queensland every year,” he said. 

“Many of those end up in our parks and waterways and ultimately in Moreton Bay or the Great Barrier Reef where they end up being eaten by turtles dugongs and dolphins and other sea life. 

“We hope by banning these bags we can clean up our state and protect more of our marine animals.”

He said the plastic bag ban will also have benefits to councils and wild life groups. 

“There will be savings there as well for council in particular who spends a lot of money keeping our parks clean and wild life rescue teams spend a lot of time and effort saving our animals that have ingested plastics,” he said. 


How “green” exactly are Green bags? 

Earlier in the year the ABC reported each bag needs to be used at least 104 times to negate the impacts the manufacturing process has on the environment.

QUT Science and engineering research fellow Dr John Cowell said people need to consider the amount of material, water and energy used when the bags are manufactured, however 104 uses is rational to him. 

“I think that’s probably a reasonable assessment that’s been done,” he said. 

“Many people will use the bags over and over again. 

“I suppose they have to last that length of time in terms of their durability and I have shopping bags at home that I’ve reused probably that amount of times and they’re still in tact so I think they’re still a reasonable alternative to shopping bags.” 

He said an improvement on the bags durability would not be without a cost. 

“They could redesign the bags to make them more durable often there’s more material that needs to be used in the bags  to do that,” he said. 

“So then you’ve got that trade off using more material, more energy, more water, more production, compared to the whole lifetime of the bag. 

“I’m not really sure what the assessment will show there but potentially there is the possibility to improve the durability of those bags.” 

Dr Miles stands by the fact that the green bags are still an improvement from plastic bags. 

“We believe that those reusable options are better for the environment especially from a litter perspective those reusable bags very rarely end up in the stream like the plastic bags do,” he said. 


Other options to reusable bags

Dr Miles said there are other alternatives people can use as well as the reusable bags. 

“I think people will adopt different options,” he said. 

“so at the moment both Bunnings and Aldi don’t issue bags for free and so they have a range of options from boxes to heavier plastic reusable bags to the green bags we’re all familiar with.

 “It also means that if you’re only buying just an item or two you don’t need a bag at all and I know often at the store you can end up with a bag if you’re buying one thing which doesn’t make much sense.”

He said although there is a price, the plastic bags issued aren’t actually free. 

“At the moment the cost of the bags is actually included in the grocery price so we actually pay 3 cents a bag even though they feel free,” he said. 

Despite the different impacts green bags have on the environment Dr Colwell said the ban is a step in the right direction. 

“I think its a good well considered approach by the Queensland Government,”

“It’s a bit different to what they’ve done in other states in terms of they’re banning degradable and biodegradable lightweight shopping bags as well which also present an environmental hazard until they break down.

“So in that way it’s probably a slightly better approach than what’s been taken elsewhere.”


(Image source: Flickr)