Victoria bans single-use plastic bags

Living Well | Tianna Nadalin | Posted on 01 November 2019

Single-use plastic bags are banned in Victoria. Here’s everything you need to know. 

As of 1 November, single-use plastic bags are banned in Victoria. The state-wide bag ban applies to all lightweight plastic shopping bags with a thickness of 35 microns or less, and includes bags made from all types of plastic, including degradable, biodegradable and compostible plastics. 

Though major supermarkets started phasing out free, single-use plastic bags in June 2018, as of today, all retailers – including independent supermarkets, greengrocers, bakeries, pharmacies, clothing stores, restaurants, cafes, markets, takeaway food outlets and many more – will need to find alternative packing and carrying solutions. 

“This ban will slash waste, reduce litter and help protect marine life in Victoria’s pristine waters,” says Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio. “We’ve been working closely with businesses to plan for the ban – to help them to play their part in protecting our environment.”

The legislation came after the Victorian government received an overwhelming response during community consultation on plastic pollution.

“An overwhelming 96 per cent of Victorians are in favour of banning single-use plastic bags and we’ve delivered,” she says.

Here’s everything you need to know about shopping in Victoria in the Post Plastic Ban Era, plus how to bid farewell to single-use plastic bags for good.  

Man wearing red cap delivering stack of pizzas in plastic bag

Single-use plastic bags are now banned in Victoria.


Everything you need to know about Victoria’s single-use plastic bag ban

Why do we need to ban plastic bags?

Australians use an alarming 4 billion plastic bags a year, approximately 150 million of which end up in our oceans and waterways, and – up until now – just three per cent of Australia’s plastic bags are being recycled. 

Which plastic bags are banned?

The plastic bag ban applies to all lightweight plastic shopping bags with a thickness of 35 microns or less at any part of the bag (including the handles). 

Which plastic bags aren’t banned?

Animal waste bags, garbage bags and bin liners, and barrier bags for fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.

What are the alternatives?

Paper or cardboard bags, cardboard boxes, cloth, jute, hessian or bamboo bags, non-woven reusable bags and heavyweight, reusable plastic bags designed for reuse – such as ‘green’ bags. 

What happens if I forget my bags? 

It’s hard enough remembering your keys sometimes, let along your green bags. Do yourself a favour and keep a stash at the front door, in the boot of your car or in your handbag so you’ve always got a back-up bag. 

What do I do with any old single-use bags?

Do not just throw these in the bin. Soft plastics (which includes single-use plastic bags) are the number one contaminant in recycling. If you’ve got a stash of these under the sink, make sure you’re using them as general rubish bags. Or, better yet, store all your soft plastics in one place and drop them off at your local REDcycle bin (you can find these at many supermarkets across Victoria). 

What about interstate retailers?

Lightweight plastic bags have been banned in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and the ACT. At present, New South Wales is the only state not to implement a single-use plastic bag ban.

Why are biodegradable bags banned?

There is mounting research to suggest that degradable, biodegradable and compostable plastic bags may not be the environmentally friendly alternative they seem. When disposed of incorrectly (which, more often than not, they are) they may not be any better than standard plastic bags and, if littered, can still present the same entanglement and ingestion risks of regular plastic. If sent to landfill, many biodegradable plastics, when they break down, can also produce methane – a potent greenhouse gas.

What is the difference between biodegradable, degradable and compostable plastics?

The VicBagBan website says ’environmentally friendly’ plastics are often labelled as degradable, biodegradable or compostable; however, often even these products are not any better for the environment. 

Biodegradable

Made from natural material (such as cornstarch) which breaks down into organic material and water over time. Biodegradable plastics can also contaminate plastic waste collected for recycling. As they are not always easily identifiable or easy to separate out, biodegradable plastics can lower the quality of products made with recycled plastics.

Compostable

A subset of biodegradable plastic, made from material assessed to be compostable in a commercial composting environment in accordance with Australian Standards. Commercially compostable bags are increasingly used for collecting food scraps. However, it is important to note that many products labelled as ‘compostable’, including bags, only decompose in commercial composters, and cannot be composted at home.

Degradable

A plastic bag that can be broken down into smaller pieces by chemical or biological processes. Degradable plastics break down into smaller pieces (microplastics) and can be even worse for the environment compared to standard plastics as they are almost impossible to collect and can infiltrate the food chain.

Loaf of bread from bakery in clear plastic bag
You'll have to BYO bags (or use paper ones) from now on.

Small businesses will need to find alternatives to single-use plastics for packing and carrying.



How to use less plastic in three easy steps

Avoid buying things that come in plastic

Rather than going, ‘oh my god, how can I get rid of all this plastic’, Sustainability Victoria spokeswoman Katie Pahlow says it’s better to think about how plastic is coming into the house in the first place. “So much of what we buy is pre-packaged,” she says. “So the first place to start is to avoid buying things that come in plastic.” 

That can be as simple as swapping your bottle of milk for a carton, choosing laundry detergents that come in a box or scooping nuts from the pick-and-mix area into your own reusable bag.      

Learn how to recycle properly

One of the big issues when it comes to recycling plastics is that consumers often get it wrong. There is a misconception, Katie says, that plastics will get sorted at the facility, but this isn’t true. Throwing the wrong kinds of plastics in the recycling bin means you’re contaminating everything else, so it’s all sent to landfill. 

“It’s critical to dispose of plastic in a way that it actually gets recycled,” Katie explains. “The main thing to think about is whether or not it is hard or soft plastic. Your recycling bin is primarily for hard plastics; think Tim Tam trays or shampoo bottles.”

Soft plastics, on the other hand, require specific treatment. “There are RedCycle bins out the front of the supermarket for all your soft plastics. That includes plastic wrap, chip packets and plastic bags. Basically, if you can scrunch it up and it stays that way, you can’t put it in your regular recycle bin.”

Get out of the single-use mindset

As well as opting for foods that don’t come in plastic, choosing more sustainable products is also important. We’re talking coffee cups, drink bottles, straws and lunchboxes. “When you’re out and about or travelling, it can often be easier to just buy a bottle of water or use disposable cutlery,” Sarah says. “But small changes like bringing a reusable bottle for water, keep cups for coffee and even remembering to bring your reusable shopping bags make a huge difference.”