Get prepared for the plastic bag ban

In two weeks, free light weight single-use plastic bags will be disappearing from the major supermarkets, Big W, Dan Murphy's, Bakers Delight and many more locations across the country. Queensland and Western Australia will be catching up with Tasmania, South Australia and Northern Territory when their State wide bans of single-use plastic bags come into effect at the same time too. Victoria is tipped to announce a state wide ban soon and New South Wales is unfortunately not doing anything. I'm not here to dwell on those left behind – instead I'm here to share tips that will help you get ready for life without those free single-use plastic bags.

From 1st July shoppers will no longer be able to bag (and some cases double bag) their items in a flimsy plastic bag. This is not a complete plastic bag ban, only the free light weight single-use ones. Shoppers will have the option to purchase a thicker plastic bag for 15c. Certain businesses won't be providing alternatives.

But you're not going to purchase the thicker plastic bag because....

  1. 15c will add up. If the average Australian uses over 400 plastic bags, shoppers will be forking out over $60 a year. Think of all the smashed avocado on toast you could enjoy. Plastic bags are used on average for 12 minutes, not really worth the 15c. Or you could put it towards that house deposit...
  2. Thicker plastic bags still pose a threat to the environment. Nothing has changed there. Saying no to the thicker bags, even if it's sold as being reusable because of durability, is the kinder choice for the oceans and local environment. Plus those thicker plastic bags will eventually be banned too. Plastic Bag Free Victoria and countless other environmental action groups are still asking for a complete ban. It's inevitable so you might as well get into the habit of bringing your own bags now.
  3. Using plastic to collect our shopping is a waste of resources plus it promotes the use of fossil fuels like petroleum. Yes, they can be recycled. Well technically down-cycled into once more item then it's the end of that resources life for now. Instead let's use this plastic bag ban to save our millions old resources for something other than a bag.
  4. The new thicker plastic bags are even uglier than the light weight ones. It's true. Do you really need to carry your avocados and loaf of bread out of the store in one. I didn't think so.

First, find a reusable option right for your life and needs:

Human beings survived for a long time without plastic bags. We had cloth bags, baskets, wicker trolleys, our arms, horse and carts, cardboard boxes. There are an array of different tools you can use to carry your food home without the need for a plastic bag. Alternatively, perhaps you could make your own from an old duvet cover, sheets, pillow cases, tablecloth, curtains or join a Boomerang Bags group in your area. Read my interview with the founder of Boomerang Bags here.

Shopping bags made of jute, canvas or cotton string are simple alternatives to plastic. When they become dirty it's easy to place the bags into your washing machine. To make jute, canvas, cloth or string bags a more environmental choice use them for as long as possible and repair any holes that might eventually occur with wear. Then when the bag comes to the end of its life, they can become a cleaning rag before going to the compost bin where they will break down. Plastic will only break up getting into our food chain and risk ingestion or strangulation of animals.

Foldable bags made of recycled plastic like this option by Onya can fit easily into any handbag or pocket. You can even hang them off your car keys and pull them out of their little pouch as you need one. If you feel the need to wash I suggest to hand wash with a mild soap to reduce any plastic micro-fibres from getting into our water ways.

I love these rectangle seagrass or round seagrass as a sturdy alternative. A wicker shopping cart would also be a handy way to shop without the need for a plastic bag. 

If you can, try to avoid buying the green 'fabric' bags at certain stores. The fabric is made of plastic. But if you have them at home use them! At the end of the day choose a bag you'll use and reuse.

At the supermarkets and caught without? Ask for cardboard boxes or load everything back into your trolley then wheel back to the car. If you were stuck doing this more than once I reckon you'd remember your bags quickly! 

Second, remember your reusable bags:

Buying a reusable bag or basket is the easy part. Remembering to use it will be the trick to saving that 15c for your smashed avocado. Read the tricks I used to change my plastic habits
  • Put reminders into your phone.
  • Stick visual reminders around the house, on the back of the door or from your rear view car mirror. Download the image below, cut out and use.
  • Choose a home for you bags and return your bags to this location each time. This will help save time locating them if you are in a rush.
  • If you have children give them the role of plastic bag police. It's their job to make sure the reusable bags are packed and used. They can issue fines if the parents are caught without.
  • Buddy up with your partner, friend, housemate to help each other remember.

Third, practice the step above:

It's going to take some practice to remember plastic bags are banned or no longer given away for free anymore when going to the shops. But you are not in this alone. There are millions of Australians who will be in the same position. Let's help each other and reward our efforts to break our plastic habits. The future generations will thank you for making the choice to preserve the earths resources for something more valuable than a plastic bag.

Breaking habits that are ingrained in our life can be hard but not impossible. We all have habits and they are aren't all bad. Many of us have good ones. And soon enough carrying reusable bags will be a new normal habit before you know it.

But, what about lining my bin?
While you are ordering your brunch on the weekend, ask your local Cafe for any surplus newspapers from the day before and use the newspaper to line your bin instead. Your local library is another option to seek out extra newspapers.

Do you think charging for plastic bags will stop people from using them?
Yes, I do. We can take a quick look at the UK where there was a 85% drop in plastic bag use when they began charging for light weight single-use bags. Sure there wasn't a 100% avoidance by everyone but there was a drop and that is a step in the right direction. We will get to a point where we'll look back and cringe at how many plastic bags we used to use.

What about biodegradable or compostable bags?
Choosing biodegradable plastic bags do nothing to promote reuse which will always be a more environmentally friendly choice. A biodegradable bag can still harm and injure wildlife. A biodegradable bag made of a plant source (think corn) won't break down in landfill properly because there is no oxygen. They can't be recycled. Most Australian composting facilities don't take them. And it's rare Aussies home composts are set up to a temperature that would break them down. Even when it does break down or actually break up (it turns into small pieces first that move about the environment faster) there is a residue left behind. There is not enough information yet to determine if these residues are safe. Then there is the risk biodegradable bags are sold without being properly tested or are actually degradable bags but sold with the word 'bio' to lure customers in. Degradable bags are different to that of biodegradable and compostable. It's a confusing grey area. I see biodegradable and compostable bags as slightly better but are again another bandaid solution and with all the other options above, not necessary at all.


  1. I'm not Australian, may I ask: if most Australian composting facilities don't take biodegradable plastic bags, what type of bags do they take? I assume they can't accept rubbish wrapped up in some kind of paper, as paper can not adequately contain rubbish and the smell it produces. Is it ordinary plastic bags that are required by those facilities? Thank you for your time.

    1. Composting facilities in Australia are dedicated to food waste, grass clippings, leaves and small branches. My council and others in my country have a dedicated green bin to collect the items seperate to rubbish and recycling bins. They prefer no bags instead residents place stuff like food scraps into a small pail that sits in their kitchen and is emptied into the larger green bin that is collected from our kerb side either each week or fortnight (depending on council). The green bins are sorted at the composting facility and any contamination like plastic bags are removed before they are put through the composting process. I hope this answers your question.

  2. Yes, thank you. I am surprised but happy that large bins with good amounts of organic material rotting under the hot Australian climate does not pose a problem. I do remember reading once about how in some countries it's illegal to not put your trash in a plastic bag for this very reason. I have seen bins for composting outside restaurants that were missing a lid for months and were, of course, smelly. In cities with rat control problems, like NY, I wonder how the problem would be tackled. But maybe Australia can lead the way. Thanks again.

    1. Anonymous6/18/2018

      Hi M, we live in the tropics in Australia. Most communities have a dump where they can take rubbish that is not collected weekly by the bin men. This includes items too large for the bin, scrap materials such as metal, toxic products such as batteries or paint and garden waste. The householder sorts their rubbish into the appropriate skip (dumpster?). Public composting centres usually take garden waste (lawn mowings, leaves, etc), not food waste. It is up to households to compost their own food waste (e.g. potato peel, egg shells, banana skins) in their own garden or in a compost bin on the verandah, and then use this compost themselves on their own plants. My understanding is that cooked food shouldnt be composted as this is what encourages vermin like rats. Cooked food should be eaten, but as a last resort thrown in the regular garbage bag. As it's close to 40 degrees here, we have to store fish carcasses, crab shells, etc in the fridge until the day the binmen come so that it doesnt attract flies.

  3. As a Tasmanian I have been reusing bags for many years, in fact, long before it was required. I have a cardboard box in the back of my car full of cloth bags, and the net Onya produce bags. When I have unloaded the shopping I put the bags back at the front door and take them back to the car next time I leave the house. I also have one or two stuff sack type reusable bags folded up in my hand bag for whenever I am walking. I have a vintage op-shop shopping trolley in the back porch which my children refuse to be seen with:) All of this adds up to very little accumulation of plastic bags, which makes me very happy. I have a small container on my kitchen bench, which is an old tea canister which is my bin. While I currently use small plastic bags to line it, which are mostly pre-used bread bags that I get from my mum, I am working on transitioning to no bin lining. So far most wet things are going into the compost. I am still throwing some plastic-lined tea bags into the bin:( but when I use those up I won't be buying any more. It has taken a few years but tackling one kind of plastic waste at a time has made such a difference. It's good to see the plastic bag ban widening its impact.
    PS Here in Tas many shops began offering cardboard boxes when the plastic bag ban came in. It feels good to re-use waste. I collect them and use them as mulch and weed-suppressors in the garden, under a mulch of leaves or pea-straw.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story full of helpful tips, Jo. I particularly like that you tackled one plastic waste at a time. Taking is slowly can help those new habits stick. And I bet one day your children will look fondly at your op-shop shopping trolley :)


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