Phase-out of lightweight plastic bags in Australia

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Plastic bag bans in Australian states and territories
  Ban in effect (South Australia, Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, Queensland, and Western Australia
  To be banned (Victoria)
  No ban (New South Wales)

The phase-out of lightweight plastic bags in Australia is being pursued at local and state/territory level rather than nationally, with plastic bag bans implemented or pending in all states and territories except New South Wales. Environmental groups have expressed their concern that Australia was lagging other countries in the phase-out of lightweight plastic bags, including Botswana, Somalia and Tanzania.[1] In 2016 it was estimated that of the 5 billion plastic bags used annually by Australians, 150 million ended up as litter.[1]

In 2003 the Tasmanian town of Coles Bay was the first location in Australia to ban plastic bags.[2] Although in 2008 the then-Environment Minister Peter Garrett announced the Rudd Government's goal of a nationwide plastic bag ban by year's end, he later abandoned the initiative due to cost of living concerns and disagreement about the policy among state and territory governments.[3][4] This led to states and territories pursuing their own approaches.[5]

The introduction of the "Zero Waste" program in South Australia led to the first statewide lightweight bag ban being introduced in October 2008. It is estimated that this move has saved 400 million bags annually.[6] The most recent jurisdiction to announce a ban on plastic bags is Victoria, to commence on a date to be announced in early 2018.[7]

In July 2017, the country's two largest supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, announced that from July 2018 they will voluntarily remove free lightweight plastic bags from their stores and offer reusable bags instead.[8] The reusable bags were initially sold at 15 cents in both Coles and Woolworths. But on August 1, 2018, Coles announced that they would continue to offer free plastic bags indefinitely.


In Australia, 6 billion HDPE bags were used in 2002.[9] Usage reduced to 5.6 billion in 2004[10] and 3.9 billion in 2007.[9]

In April 2017, The Project and Clean Up Australia launched a petition for the premiers of the three states without plastic bag bans - Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia - to "ban the bag".[11] After a segment on The Project about the petition, #BanTheBag became the top trending topic on Twitter.[11] In February 2018, a motion was put in the Australian Federal Parliament calling for a nationwide ban of lightweight non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags.[12]

Bans by state/territory[edit]


Jurisdiction Free lightweight plastic bags available? Commencement date
South Australia No 4 May 2009[13]
Northern Territory No 1 September 2011[14][15]
ACT No 1 November 2011[16][17]
Tasmania No 1 November 2013[18]
Queensland No 1 July 2018[19]
Western Australia No 1 July 2018[20][21]
Victoria Pending To be announced[7]
New South Wales Yes -

South Australia[edit]

The Plastic Shopping Bags (Waste Avoidance) Bill passed the Parliament of South Australia on 13 November 2008, with a transitional period of 1 January to 4 May 2009.[22] With an official start date of 4 May 2009, South Australia was the first state or territory in Australia to ban plastic bags at the checkout, with retailers facing fines of up to $5,000 for distributing banned bags and retailer suppliers fined up to $20,000.[23] The ban does not extend to heavier plastic bags or fruit and vegetable bags.[23]

Northern Territory[edit]

The Northern Territory banned plastic bags with effect from 1 September 2011.[24] Biodegradable and heavier bags remain legal.[24]

Australian Capital Territory[edit]

The ACT was the second jurisdiction after South Australia to pass a law banning plastic bags,[16] with the ban entering into effect on 1 November 2011.[25] Plastic barrier bags for fruit and vegetables are exempt.[26]


In 2003 Coles Bay was the first Australian town to completely ban non-biodegradable plastic bags.[27] In November 2010 a Greens motion introduced to Tasmania's parliament to ban plastic bags received tripartisan support from Labor, the Liberals and the Greens.[28] A statewide ban began on 1 November 2013.[29] A 2015 review found widespread support for the ban but a mixed environmental impact.[30]


In November 2016 the Queensland Government announced it would ban plastic bags from 2018, after the Opposition promised that it would implement a ban if it won the next state election.[31][32] The implementing legislation passed the Queensland Parliament on 6 September 2017, accompanied by a container refund recycling scheme.[33] Both initiatives are due to take effect on 1 July 2018.[33]

Western Australia[edit]

Two attempts by the City of Fremantle in 2013 and 2015 to introduce a citywide plastic bag ban were blocked through disallowance motions moved in the Western Australian Legislative Council.[34] In September 2017, the Western Australian Government announced it would commence a statewide plastic bag ban on 1 July 2018.[20][35]


In mid-2017, Victoria's state government expressed its preference for a national ban, while confirming it would be open to a state-level ban in future.[36] In October 2017, Daniel Andrews stated that Victoria would introduce a ban on plastic bags, with the start date to be announced in early 2018 after consultation with industry and the community.[7][37]

New South Wales[edit]

The New South Wales Government currently has no plans to introduce a ban. In 2017 Premier Gladys Berejiklian stated that no regulation was needed because retailers responsible for 80% of plastic bags in the state (Coles, Woolworths and Harris Farm) would voluntarily stop providing free plastic bags themselves.[38]

Alternatives to plastic bags[edit]

A side-effect of the plastic bag ban observed in South Australia was the increased use of bin liners, which have a greater environmental impact than plastic bags as they do not break down well in modern landfills.[39] Environmentally-friendly alternatives suggested instead of bin liners include composting food scraps and using free community newspapers as liners instead.[39]

A 2007 report into shopping bag alternatives[40] noted that paper bags were less environmentally friendly than plastic bags due to a higher carbon footprint.[41] Similarly, cotton bags were unsuitable due to the pesticides used and high volume of water needed to create them.[41] The "greenest" option was using recycled plastic bags.[41]

Concern has been expressed about potential unintended adverse health outcomes associated with the plastic bag ban rollout due to the lack of care by consumers in maintaining alternative shopping bags in a clean and healthy condition. Overseas experiences in locations such as San Francisco, where increased illness and even deaths were reported in the aftermath of similar bans to those in Australian states, suggest that this is a real concern.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cormack, Lucy (9 April 2016). "Australia falling behind third world on global map of plastic bag bans". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  2. ^ "Tasmania carries eco-fight, bans plastic bags". Mail & Guardian. 29 April 2003. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  3. ^ "Garrett calls time on plastic bags". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 10 January 2008. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  4. ^ Feneley, Rick (26 December 2008). "Battle to bag the plastic goes on". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  5. ^ Darby, Andrew (12 November 2010). "Ban on plastic bags spreads to Tasmania". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  6. ^ "Plastic Bag Ban". Zero Waste South Australia. 28 February 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c Preiss, Benjamin (18 October 2017). "Lightweight plastic bags to be banned in Victoria". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  8. ^ Slezak, Michael (14 July 2017). "Woolworths and Coles to phase out single-use plastic bags". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  9. ^ a b "Plastic bags". Australian Government. 5 November 2009. Retrieved 1 July 2012. 
  10. ^ "Plastic Bag Fact Sheet" (pdf). Sustainability Victoria. 9 November 2005. Retrieved 1 July 2012. 
  11. ^ a b "Waleed Aly calls for nationwide ban". News Corp Australia. 20 April 2017. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  12. ^ "Plastic bag ban motion in Federal Parliament". 
  13. ^ Williamson, Brett (23 April 2009). "SA's plastic bag ban". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  14. ^ "Plastic bag ban". Northern Territory Government. 27 January 2016. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  15. ^ La Canna, Xavier (8 September 2014). "Fewer plastic shopping bags used in NT since ban introduced". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  16. ^ a b Hayne, Jordan (10 April 2017). "What difference did the plastic bag ban make to Canberra's waste?". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  17. ^ "Plastic bag ban". Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate. ACT Government. 6 July 2017. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  18. ^ "Plastic Shopping Bags Ban Act 2013 - EPA Tasmania". Environment Protection Authority. Tasmanian Government. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  19. ^ "Queensland bans single-use plastic bags from July 2018". The Guardian. Australian Associated Press. 5 September 2017. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  20. ^ a b Trigger, Rebecca (12 September 2017). "How will WA's plastic bag ban work?". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  21. ^ Kagi, Jacob (12 September 2017). "'The time has come': Plastic bags to be banned in WA next year". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  22. ^ Macfarlane, Melanie (14 November 2008). "South Australia bans plastic shopping bags". G-Online. Green Lifestyle Magazine. Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  23. ^ a b "$20,000 for the wrong shopping bag". News.Com.Au. Australian Associated Press. 21 April 2009. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  24. ^ a b Brennan, Bridget; Liston, Gail (1 September 2011). "Plastic bag ban begins in Territory shops". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  25. ^ "ACT bag ban begins". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 1 November 2011. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  26. ^ Boland-Rudder, Hamish; Knaus, Christopher (8 February 2013). "Study links plastic bag ban with increase in food-related deaths". Canberra Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  27. ^ "Tas town pushes for nationwide bag ban". News.Com.Au. 28 April 2013. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  28. ^ "Tasmania to ban plastic shopping bags". News.Com.Au. AAP. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  29. ^ Kempton, Helen (1 November 2013). "Tasmania's shoppers adjust quickly to ban on plastic bags as new regulations kick in". The Mercury. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  30. ^ Paine, Michelle (14 March 2015). "Jury still out on plastic bag success". The Mercury. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  31. ^ Wiggins, Nick (25 November 2016). "Queensland to ban single-use plastic bags from 2018". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  32. ^ "Queensland to ban plastic shopping bags from 2018". The Guardian. Australian Associated Press. 25 November 2016. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  33. ^ a b Branco, Jorge (5 September 2017). "Queensland's plastic bag ban is official, along with recycling refund". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  34. ^ Kagi, Jacon (14 October 2015). "Fremantle plastic bag ban binned again in WA Parliament". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  35. ^ "WA to ban plastic bags next year". The West Australian. 12 September 2017. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  36. ^ Heffernan, Madeleine; Preiss, Benjamin (27 July 2017). "Victoria open to 'going it alone' on plastic bag ban if national deal not reached". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  37. ^ Thornton, Trevor (25 October 2017). "Victoria's plastic bag ban: a good start, but we can do more". The Conversation. Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  38. ^ Cormack, Lucy (24 July 2017). "Plastic bag ban across NSW not needed if supermarkets act themselves: Premier". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  39. ^ a b Chung, Frank (18 July 2017). "Plastic bag ban: 'You don't actually need a plastic bin liner to put your rubbish out'". NewsCorp Australia. Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  40. ^ Dili, Rae (18 April 2007). Comparison of existing life cycle analysis of shopping bag alternatives: Final Report (PDF) (Report). Sustainability Victoria. Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  41. ^ a b c Adler, Ben (10 June 2016). "Banning Plastic Bags Is Great for the World, Right? Not So Fast". WIRED. Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  42. ^ "Study links plastic bag ban with increase in food-related deaths". Canberra Times. 8 February 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2018.