‘The best solution is still avoidance’: Wait for plastic bag ban too long, says activist

For Dörte Planert, the year long wait for major supermarket chains Woolworths and Coles to phase out single-use plastic bags across Australia is far too long.

"When they hand out billions of bags each year, it is far too long.” the Boomerang Bags Bega Valley and Sapphire Coast co-coordinator said this week.

"It is like a doctor telling someone they have cancer, but waiting a year to help them."

The Tathra resident criticised the NSW government for not bringing in guidelines sooner, and waiting for the major supermarket chains to make the move.

Woolworth currently hands out 3.2billion single-use bags a year, and according to Clean Up Australia 3.76billion bags, or 20,700 tonnes of plastic, are disposed of in landfill each year.

South Australia, ACT, the Northern Territory and Tasmania have already implemented state-wide bans, and with Queensland planning the move in 2018, it means NSW, Victoria and Western Australia will be affected despite no word from either government, she said.

"I am trying to rev it up because the politicians have been quiet, and they're the ones who are supposed to help the community,” she said.

"It is astonishing the big corporations are ahead of our politicians in announcing the ban.

"They may have felt the pressure from the recent media coverage, and they know the problem and the solution."

Ms Planert has written to Malcolm Turnbull, Gladys Berejiklian, Andrew Constance and Gabrielle Upton about the issue.

Boomerang Bags Bega Valley and Sapphire Coast co-coordinator Dörte Planert says the single-use plastic bag ban should be immediate. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Boomerang Bags Bega Valley and Sapphire Coast co-coordinator Dörte Planert says the single-use plastic bag ban should be immediate. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

“Smaller shops have changed long ago to paper bags or other more sustainable alternatives,” she said in her letters.

The issue of plastic in the environment will continue if customers fail to use multi-use bags correctly, she said.

"If people don't reuse them it could become worse, because they are thicker plastic, and are more dangerous to animals that confuse them as food,” Ms Planert said.

"We are already eating plastic.

"The best solution is still avoidance.

"There are some examples in society where we need plastic, but not single use plastic bags."

Boomerang Bags is a community driven movement towards stopping the unnecessary use of plastic by providing people with re-useable bags made from recycled materials.

"It is showing people what is possible,” Ms Planert said.

"It was already a model that was working and they helped us enormously to get started.”

Plastic pollution has become a part of our food chain, says Bermagui Dune Cares's Karen Joynes. Picture: Troy Mayne

Plastic pollution has become a part of our food chain, says Bermagui Dune Cares's Karen Joynes. Picture: Troy Mayne

After being founded by Tania Potts and Jordyn de Boer in the Queensland town of Burleigh Heads, Boomerang Bags is now an international movement, after spreading to Germany, Spain, Canada, Norway, Iceland, England, Indonesia and New Zealand.

Bermagui Dune Care’s Karen Joynes said the ban is a start towards controlling plastic pollution along the Far South Coast, but more should be done.

”A lot more needs to be done to reduce single use plastic, to reduce the impact that all plastic bags have on littering the coast and on marine wildlife,” she said.

“When the bags break up, or are partly eaten by wildlife such as turtles, the smaller parts pose another threat, that of being ingested by fish we eat, so the plastic pollution becomes a part of our food chain.

“Hopefully the plastic bag ban will make people think more before accepting single use bags or single use plastic generally, or make them dispose of the plastic securely, so it doesn't end up in waterways, the ocean or on our beaches.”

She said plastic water bottles, fishing bait bags, straws and cigarette butts are often in high abundance on our beaches, especially after rain events.