Former South Australian premier Mike Rann was in power in 2009 when the State Government became the first in the nation to introduce a ban on single-use plastic bags.
Following the double backflip from supermarket giant Coles last week on the phase out of free plastic bags, he has called on Australia’s retailers and the New South Wales Government to “show a little bit of courage” and ban the bag.
Mr Rann said he decided to initiate the ban in South Australia because around 400 million non-biodegradable plastic bags were going into the environment locally, and some four billion nationally.
“Before our ban was in place the response from some retailers was that it would be the end of civilisation and would damage business. It didn’t,” he said.
“There was the same response in the 1970s when the Dunstan government introduced container-deposit legislation.
“It didn’t and not only did it make our streets and environment cleaner, it created a recycling industry and has been a big fundraiser for countless sports clubs and charities.”
Mr Rann said he was also told the decision to increase the container deposit refund from 5 to 10 cents would damage sales.
“It didn’t,” he said.
Mr Rann said he had hoped a national ban would follow South Australia’s move in 2009, but other states were not brave enough to make the change.
“Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett tried but other states became nervous and a national push fell apart,” he said.
“Once again I’m pleased that other states are now following on the plastic bag front.
“Companies that are smart enough to embrace a greener future will do well.
“All the overseas research shows that ‚ÄĒ they just need a little bit of courage and show their ‘clean, green’ claims are real.”
Mr Rann pointed to international moves towards reusable bags, with Chile, Panama and Albania introducing laws to increase use of recyclable and biodegradable bags.
“Coles has proudly proclaimed its commitment and credentials regarding sustainability and reducing emissions,” he said.
“Its flip flopping on the plastic bag charge issue has been embarrassing for them.
“Interestingly, Unilever, the global consumer goods giant with a massive range of products, recently announced that its ‘Sustainable Living’ brands were growing 46 per cent faster than other parts of its business and delivered 70 per cent of Unilever’s overall revenue growth.
“Smart businesses know there are profits from sustainability, commercial benefits [from] early mover leadership, as well as being on the right side of history.”
The former premier said in 2009 there were fears that shoppers would be slow to adjust to the change at supermarket checkouts and would be confused by cloth bags.
“People are not stupid and adjusted because they understood the reasons,” he said.
“It was stores who began proudly proclaiming their green credentials and polls showed massive support from South Australians for the move, around 80 per cent.”
In 2011 the ACT and Northern Territory introduced bans on single-use plastic carry bags, Tasmania followed in 2013, with Western Australia and Queensland introduced bans from July 1 this year.
In Victoria, single-use bags will be banned by the end of 2019, a decade after South Australia’s changes were introduced, leaving NSW as the lone holdout.
While he said the focus now needed to be on New South Wales falling into line with other jurisdictions, he also called for an assessment of the impact of the heavier plastic bags now being handed out in supermarkets and by other retailers.
According to the 2017 Annual Plastics Recycling Survey, 3.5 million tonnes of plastics were used across Australia in 2016-17.
A total of 293,900 tonnes of plastics ‚ÄĒ excluding tyres ‚ÄĒ were recycled in that same year, dropping by 10 per cent on the previous year.
There were around 175 million of the thicker heavy-duty plastic bags issued throughout Australia in 2016-17.
Around 5.7 billion of the thinner single-use bags were provided to customers, weighing a total of 30,700 tonnes.
New South Wales was the highest consumer of plastic last year, with residents accounting for 1.12 million tonnes of plastic.
Victoria has the highest amount of recycling generated per capita at 25.6 kilograms per person per year, with a large amount of this recycling generated from manufacturing scrap, with South Australia coming in second, with 22 kilograms recycled per person per year.