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Hope for Queensland Plastic Bag Ban Rises Anew

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BRISBANE, Queensland, Australia, October 19, 2012 (ENS) – The nonprofit Queensland Conservation Council is renewing its push for a statewide plastic bag ban at a community luncheon in Brisbane next month.

The keynote speaker, Clean Up Australia campaign founder Ian Kiernan, says banning single-use plastic shopping bags across Queensland will help save turtles, dugongs and crocodiles that starve to death after eating plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfish.

“We’re seeing a lot of dead turtles, dugongs and crocs,” he told the Australian Associated Press.

The plastic bags settle on the seabed, smothering the marine plants, he said. “We’ve just got to get rid of the bloody things.”

“It won’t be hard to make the switch to cardboard boxes, cloth bags and biodegradable plastic bags,” said Queensland Conservation Council Executive Director Toby Hutcheon. “The alternatives are already out there.”

The longest coral reef in the world fringes the Queensland coast, so banning plastic bags would help protect the marine creatures that inhabit Moreton Bay and the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland conservationists believe.

Last year, the Queensland Conservation Council lobbied for a plastic bag ban when the state’s Labor Government, headed by then Premier Anna Bligh, brought in a new waste law, the Waste and Resource Recovery Act.

During the consultation phase the Queensland Conservation Council advocated a plastic bag ban, and the draft bill included a phaseout of single-use plastic bags. But that provision was removed without notice or explanation when the bill went before Parliament for a vote.

“We were appalled when at the 11th hour the government withdrew its proposal to ban plastic bags,” the group says on its website.

In March, Queensland threw out Bligh’s Labor Government and elected a Liberal National Party Government headed by Premier Campbell Newman, the long-time mayor of Brisbane.

QCC’s Hutcheon is convinced the high level of Liberal National Party ministerial representation in the state, combined with the green attitude of residents, will result in another chance for a plastic bag ban.

Hutcheon hopes the Newman Government will respond to his group’s determination to have a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in place by 2015.

Queensland’s new environment minister, Andrew Powell, has come out in favor of a plastic bag ban.

Speaking in the debate on the Waste and Resource Recovery Act, Powell said, “I have spoken to retail operators who believe and accept that a phaseout of single-use plastic bags is inevitable. They are looking to the government to provide certainty and direction in this regard.”

Describing the efforts of an environmentalist who monitors Brisbane sites for plastic litter, Powell told his fellow lawmakers, “80 per cent of plastic bags found in waterways come from discarded bags from local newspapers. The reason is that local papers are mostly thrown on footpaths, roads and gutters. The bags then end up in local stormwater drains and local waterways.”

“The other 20 per cent of plastics in local waterways that end up on our foreshore and bay are drink bottles and other plastic waste,” said Powell.

But Dr. Ross Headifen, who blogs at the site Plastic Waste Solutions, has little hope that the Newman Government will support a plastic bag ban.

“This would be very good for Queensland if it gets any support from government. It is interesting though as Queensland just got a new State Premier who seems to be unraveling many environmental issues that were in place and is supporting big business in a large way at the expense of environmental protection,” blogged Headifen.

“The whole issue is inevitable in years to come,” he blogged. “The environmental toll of an item that is not necessary by any definition, is just too great. Some regions will keep their head in the sand longer than others clinging to their old outdated ways, and industries like grocery stores will fight it, but eventually the disposable plastic bag has to go.”

“The ironic thing is it will save grocery stores money when the disposable plastic bag gets banned,” Headifen wrote. “And it will save taxpayers money by not having to clean them up.”

On November 20, at the Moreton Bay Trailer Boat Club in Manly, the Queensland Conservation Council will host a fund-raising lunch to encourage support for a plastic bag ban.

The group is taking a fresh approach. “Instead of just persuading individuals to give up a convenience or asking government for a blanket ban we hope to show how a positive change can be made when a community works together to improve their local area. By encouraging Bayside communities to reject plastic bags and move to more sustainable alternatives in their area we will create a model that all Queensland communities can emulate,” the group says in its latest newsletter.

The Council hopes people will be persuaded by the fact that people use a plastic bag for an average of 12 minutes, but the bags “can take 1,000 years to degrade, causing great harm to the environment and wildlife.”

Elsewhere in Australia, the state of Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory have already banned plastic bags.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

Cover photo: Brisbane, Australia. Author: Luke Zeme. Licensed by Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.