Lightweight plastic bag ban and reducing single-use plastics

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The government is pursuing a range of initiatives to reduce the environmental impact of single-use plastics. These initiatives include a ban on the supply of lightweight single-use plastic bags from 1 July 2018, the introduction of a container deposit scheme from 2 June 2020 and the Premier’s instruction to government agencies to avoid buying single-use plastic items including plastic cups, straws, plates and cutlery.

It is estimated that before the plastic bag ban, Western Australians used about 670 million single-use plastic bags. Of these, about seven million were littered annually, with most of the remainder ending up in landfill. In the marine environment, plastic bags can be mistaken for food by animals and ingested, or animals can become entangled in them, restricting their movement. Plastics persist in the environment for many decades. Eventually they break up into smaller pieces and their ingestion has devastating impacts on marine wildlife and birds.

To successfully implement the ban, the government partnered with the Boomerang Alliance to help deliver specific components of the program, which provided valuable information for community and retail behaviour change campaigns. The messaging tested by the Boomerang Alliance was incorporated into our ‘What’s Your Bag Plan?’ campaign materials that included television, radio and print media as well as web-based and social media resources.

We also partnered with the National Retail Association to help retailers to understand all aspects of the ban and find suitable alternatives to meet their business and customer needs. A comprehensive engagement program was undertaken that included one-on-one visits to more than 4000 individual retailers across Western Australia, a retailer-specific website and a telephone hotline.

The work with the National Retail Association also resulted in the development of novel and engaging approaches to community and retailer engagement – including making Famous Sharron the face of the campaign. A series of short films featuring Famous Sharron and willing community members delivering messages about the bag ban were distributed via social media to coincide with the offence provisions that came into effect on 1 January 2019. During this time, other materials about the bag ban were being delivered via web-based and social media, shopping centre signage and street performance activities.

Under the Regulations, it is an offence (with fines of up to $5000) for a retailer to supply a lightweight plastic bag to their customers. Community members may also report a retailer suspected of supplying a banned bag via the National Retail Association website.

Research undertaken in 2017 shows the Western Australian community is concerned about the impacts plastics pollution is having on our environment. To build on the success of the ban, the Minister for Environment launched the Let’s not draw the short straw, reduce single use plastics issues paper and survey in April 2019. The aim was to gather ideas from the community and businesses on how to reduce single-use plastics and their impacts on the environment, waste facilities and human health. The results of the consultation will be available in 2019–20.

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