So far the main tactic has been various campaigns to Say NO to Plastic Bags. Several retailers discourage the use of plastic bags by charging for their use. Overall the outcome in NSW in volume of bags used and litter levels has been minimal.
An example of the damage caused by plastic litter occurred in Sydney Harbour recently. Some fishermen returning from a fishing trip noticed a Southern Right Whale in the upper reaches of Middle Harbour. The whale ‘had a big scar on his back and had some fishing line and two plastic bags on his head’. The distressed whale swam alongside their boat allowing the men to remove the life-threatening bags from its head.
In the words of Jeff Angel, Convenor and Director of the Boomerang Alliance of 32 allied groups:
We estimate that at least 16.5 million plastic bags enter the litter stream in NSW every year. Just 8.7 plastic checkout bags contain enough embodied energy to drive a car 1 km. We need to stop this waste and environmental damage.
An Omnipoll survey conducted in July showed that 64% of NSW residents support a total ban on single use plastic bags given out at supermarkets and stores. Where a ban is already in place as in SA and NT the support rises to 81%, demonstrating public acceptance once the measure is established.
The NSW Parliament held a debate on banning single use plastic bags on 13 August in response to a petition signed by 12,472 people. Following the debate the NSW Environment Minister, Mark Speakman, declared the government was committed to accepting the challenge and will discuss options at a further meeting of environment ministers.
Past experience has shown little action at a national level. As with the experience of the container deposit legislation, NSW will have to act on its own and follow SA and NT.