There is a risk that plastic shopping bags will be banned nationwide in a token, feel good effort to look after the environment. Friday’s Sydney Morning Herald (Ban on plastic bags spreads to Tasmania) reported:
MOMENTUM appears to be growing nationally for a ban on plastic checkout bags, as Tasmania joins three other jurisdictions to outlaw them.
A legislated ban is expected in Tasmania within a year following confirmation of all-party support yesterday. The state would join South Australia, the ACT and Northern Territory.
Luckily the Queensland Government has so far resisted pressures to ban plastic bags. Banning plastic bags would create inconvenience for shoppers, who would have to always make sure they’re carrying around enough reusable shopping bags to take home any groceries. A ban would create a lot of inconvenience for miniscule environmental gains, given that plastic bags are a very small part of the total amount of litter in Australia. This was made clear in a 2006 Productivity Commission report on Waste Management:
…based on evidence available to the Commission, the case for proceeding with the phase out of plastic bags appears particularly weak. A more cost-effective approach to addressing the underlying issues of concern would be to target plastic-bag litter directly.
The Commission made the great point that we should target the underlying behaviour that causes the environmental damage attributable to plastic bags – i.e. littering. Banning plastic bags would make us feel good when it’s announced, but we’d regret it every time we needed to pick up our stir fry ingredients on the way home from work, and we’d forgotten our bulky green reusable shopping bag.