Retailers grapple with plastic bag ban plan

Environment Minister Peter Garrett’s plan to phase out plastic bags by the end of 2008 has met with a mixed response from retailers and industry groups.

Retailers, including furniture and homeware chain Villa & Hut and computer game franchise Gametraders, say they are in favour of Garrett’s move get rid of non-biodegradable plastic bags.

Gametraders founder Mark Langford says he introduced biodegradable plastic bags into his business three years ago for environmental reasons.

“I’d like to see the old plastic bags totally banned,” Langford says. “Even though (biodegradable plastic bags) cost about five times as much, we just decided it was time to do something right and went over to biodegradable, and we haven’t look back since.”

Villa & Hut has also moved to a mix of recycled paper and biodegradable plastic bags. Managing director Franz Madlener says: “Given that we use recycled timbers in our furniture and we are a fair trade company, it would be hypocritical to use old plastic or non-recycled paper bags.”

Madlener says while he supports moves to reduce reliance on plastic bags, retailers need to be given more information on how to handle the change.

“What Peter Garrett needs to do now is say fine, we’ll ban these bags, but here are our recommendations to the industry for moving forward – and he should remove the duty on the importation of recycled paper bags,” he says.

Retail industry groups have given a hostile reception to Garrett’s plan, with the Australian Retailers Association, National Association of Retail Grocers and Australian National Retailers Association all slamming the announcement.

“This initiative will cause confusion, increase costs and add a further compliance burden to retailers,” Australian Retailers Association executive director Richard Evans says: “What the ARA wants is leadership and further dialogue on this very important issue, not populist rhetoric and the heavy hand of legislation about plastic carry bags.”

National Association of Retail Grocers chief executive Ken Henrick says studies have debunked many of the claims made about the environmental impact of plastic bags.

“A Productivity Commission study published last year estimated the cost of a ban to retailers would be in the hundreds of millions to retailers and that the environmental impacts [of plastic bags] are negligible,” Henrick says.

While the details of the plan remain unclear, Garrett said yesterday that he would meet with state premiers in April to begin the process of implementing the ban.

“There are some four billion of these plastic bags floating around the place, getting into landfill, ending up affecting our wildlife, [and] showing up on our beaches while we are on holidays,” Garrett told Sky News. “I think most Australians would like to see them gone.”


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