From May 4th it became illegal for South Australian retailers to supply single use plastic bags unless they conform to the introduced standards for biodegradable compostable bags. Also acceptable of course, are the reusable “green bags”. Retailers caught violating the ban face on the spot fines of $315 or a maximum penalty of $5000 while suppliers caught supplying bags which do not conform to the standard may face a penalty of $20,000.
The ban is expected to remove 400 million plastic bags from the waste stream each year.
While most consumers and retailers would probably agree about the need to reduce plastic bag consumption some would probably object to what they consider to be a rather heavy handed legislative approach. Nevertheless, this type of legislative approach seems to be endorsed by environmental organisations like Planet Ark who would like to see these legislative changes introduced throughout Australia. But since most of the concerns of environmental organisations seem to relate to litter, this legislative approach is being endorsed as a substitute for more direct means of modifying undesirable human (littering) behaviour.
While the intended goals of the anti plastic bag campaign are commendable such legislative campaigns are hardly a substitute for more positive community campaigns. Legislative bans on undesirable packaging options are entirely negatively focused. There may be some who would suggest consumers, manufacturers, and retailers will not listen to positive messages and therefore resort must be given to negatively focused legislative campaigns targeting consumers, however, until all is done to communicate the positive options to consumers and retailers, and attempt to modify human behaviour, such a criticism is premature.
In this regard I draw attention to the fact that although 2009 is the United Nations Year of Natural Fibres governments and environmental groups rarely seem to mention this fact let alone publicise the advantages of natural fibres. Most members of the community are completely unaware of the Year of Natural Fibres, a fact which rests heavily on the shoulders of governments and environmental groups who seem to seek a monopoly on environmental wisdom. Efforts by governments and environmental groups to publicise the Year of Natural Fibres and the advantages of natural fibre bags are sadly lacking.
Especially in this the United Nations Year of Natural Fibres politicians and environmentalists should be vigorously supporting the use of natural fibre bags such as jute bags and organic cotton bags. Why is it that these natural fibre bags, and the Year of Natural Fibres, have such a low profile amongst politicians and environmentalists?