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Beating The 'Wave Of Waste': Plastic Laws And Bans Across The Country

On the eve of World Environment Day, here's everything you need to know about plastic laws across the country

When Melburnians wandered through Federation Square on Monday, they were confronted by 1,580 kilograms of disposable plastic.

The ‘Wave of Waste’, set up by Corona ahead of World Environment Day, reflects the staggering amount of plastic entering Australia’s oceans every hour.

According to research commissioned by the company, that was a figure only seven percent of surveyed Aussies knew about -- but one which spurred 89 percent to reduce their consumption of plastics.

A 'Wave of Waste' has taken over Federation Square in Melbourne. Source: Corona

It comes as consumers across parts of the country prepare for a ban on single-use plastic bags, and as the supermarket giants announce further plans to curb plastic packaging.

War on plastic ramps up

The United Nations’ Education Programme estimates 300 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced globally each year -- an output which rose more in the early 2000s than it had in the previous 40 years.

Half of that plastic is designed to be used once -- and then thrown away.

The consequences of this are severe as items, including plastic bags, end up in landfill, polluting oceans and killing wildlife.

On Sunday, there were reports a whale in southern Thailand died after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags.

Source: AAP

The male pilot was barely alive when it was found in a canal near the border of Malaysia, according to the country’s department of marine and coastal resources, with an autopsy finding the bags found in the animal’s stomach weighed up to eight kilograms.

Beyond such cases, scientists have suggested plastic waste could serve as a geological indicator of the Anthropocene era.

So what is being done about it in Australia?

Plastic bags

Retailers and consumers in Queensland and Western Australia are preparing for a ban on single-use lightweight plastic bags.

From July 1, a statewide ban in Queensland will enforce fines of up to $6300 for non compliant retailers, Health Minister Leeanne Enoch said on Monday, alongside rugby league legend Mal Meninga.

“We cannot afford to stand by and let the damage caused by plastic shopping bags continue to happen."

“I’m calling on everyone to pick up the ball and play their role in making the plastic bag ban a success," Mr Meninga said. 

The move will bring the states in line with the ACT, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmania where bans are already in place.

Victoria is poised to follow suit, leaving New South Wales as the only state without a comprehensive ban.

Up to 47 retail and green groups that form the Boomerang Alliance are calling on the Berejiklian government to fall in line -- and not rely on partial action by retailers.

“Plastic bags are a clear and present danger, and the inaction of the NSW government -- the only state not to ban them -- is highly irresponsible,” Director of the Boomerang Alliance Jeff Angel said.

“The big retailers have taken the lead, now it’s time for government to follow.”

Source: Woolworths

Supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles both agreed to phase out single-use bags and replace them with both eco-friendly and recycled bags.

Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci on Monday said a nationwide phase out would begin on June 20, with new green reusable bags offered to customers.

More than 800 Big W stores will follow suit days later, on July 1.

While customers are encouraged to bring their own bags, reusable bags will range in cost from 15 cents to $2.50.

Plastic straws

Beyond plastic bags, Woolworths and Coles have ramped up plans to reduce the amount of plastic packaging and curb food waste.

Part of Woolworth’s announcement on Monday was a cut to selling plastic straws across the country and in New Zealand by the end of 2018.

That would save 134 million straws from going into circulation.

A grassroots campaign to ban straws across the country is gaining momentum, with over 100 venues partnering with The Last Straw.

The step up in the campaign against waste comes a week after the European Union outlined plans to ban single-use plastic straws, cutlery and cotton buds.

Plastic packaging

Retailers on Monday committed to going further than their previous announcements to ditch the bag in response to demands from customers.

"We know that 69 percent of customers say that we need to actively reduce waste and landfill through recycled packaging and find alternatives for use,” Coles managing director John Durkan said.

Coles pledged to reduce plastic wrapping on fruit and vegetables, including bunches of bananas, kale and silverbeet, replacing meat and poultry packaging with recycled and renewable products.

Source: Woolworths

It set a 2020 deadline to halve food waste from its stores and make all packaging of home brand products recyclable.

Woolworths announced its program to remove plastic wrapping from fruit and vegetables will be expanded to include another 80 products.

With AAP.