ARA concerned about plastic bag levy

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 2nd July 2008

Peak retail industry body, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), cautioned that the proposed trial to test a levy on plastic bags at three supermarket locations in Victoria was not addressing the real issue of litter management.

The Victorian Government announced yesterday that a levy of 10 cents will be enforced in three locations from August, with Coles, Safeway and IGA to participate in the one month trial.

ARA Executive Director Richard Evans said the proposed four week plastic bag levy trial planned for August was an inapt solution to a complex issue that required more consideration and industry participation. “It is a good initiative to determine consumer behaviour but it doesn’t address the issue of litter management and only adds to the rising grocery costs already burdening consumers,” he advised. “This issue has never been about the free availability of plastic bags, nor is it about plastic bag usage. It’s about litter management. We should be encouraging consumers need to take greater responsibility of how they reuse and dispose of plastic bags. It’s a litter issue and simply banning or taxing bags is a poor approach to public policy.”

“Supermarkets contribute to 80 percent of plastic bags so the Governments decision to limit the levy to larger supermarket chains is a good idea in theory, but not fair in reality. However, it still doesn’t address the issue of litter management for a product that is totally recyclable,” Mr Evans said.

Mr Evans added the plastic bag debate was driven by inaccurate information being spread in the media about the environmental impacts of plastic bags.

“According to reports in The Australian (10 March 2008, Scientists trash plastic bag ban), scientists and environmentalists have questioned the case against the use of plastic shopping bags as based on flawed science and misreporting,” he claimed.

“In addition, The Times newspaper in Britain (8 March 2008) has mentioned a report commissioned by the Australian Government that mistakenly blamed plastic bags for animal deaths after misquoting a Canadian study about discarded fishing nets. The same article quoted scientists, including an expert who advises environmental group Greenpeace, as saying plastic bags pose only a minimal threat to most marine species, including seals, whales, dolphins and seabirds.”

Mr Evans believes that the environmental issue is causing rash decisions based on emotion rather than fact. “Retailers have been leading on this issue for over six years and this latest attack on plastic bags as a major environmental issue is overly emotive and needs to be looked at from an economic perspective. Governments need to engage retailers and educate consumers rather than listen solely to uninformed environmentalists,” Mr Evans suggested.