Retail expert Rob Lake writes:

In a move that is likely to quickly
be picked up by NSW and South
Australia, the Victorian government this week announced that shoppers will be charged a 10c levy for each plastic bag they use
from 2009.

An industry body, the Australian
Retailers Association, had run a campaign to reduce bag
usage in response to strong government pressure and a swelling tide of consumer
sentiment. ARA urged retailers to agree to a
voluntary code, or face a levy.

In June, it appeared governments
were happy with progress being made under the code. However the Victorian government has gone
alone, in the face of an Environment Australia report
recommending no legislative changes.

Environmentalists are cheering,
retailers are weeping and the plastics industry is stunned senseless. In footpath polls,
consumers appear to support the idea of green bags.

The move follows successful
introduction of levies overseas, notably
in Ireland where a 95% reduction in bag usage
was achieved.

Locally, Bunnings painlessly and
voluntarily introduced a 10c levy several years ago, offering free boxes or 50c
green bags. Rather than a tax, Bunnings
donates the 10c to Keep Australia Beautiful.
A Bunnings source said today that the move went remarkably smoothly, and
was well received by team members and customers. They remain happy with the

What retailers fear, with some
justification, are the costs and red tape associated with an enforced and
audited levy. None wants GST Mk II. If this is a tax, retailers need to push back
very hard.

Green polypropylene bags designed to be reused have been
rapidly adopted by consumers. Plastic bags have become a motherhood
issue. There is little doubt that governments are on a winner here.
However, while ownership of green bags is high, usage lags. Many live
at home or stay in the boot. An enforced tax may not prove so popular.

Meanwhile, the Total
Environment Centre believes that time’s up for plastic
bags. While a shift to reusable green
polypropylene bags is a good first move, ultimately we must move to reusable,
recyclable and biodegradable (cloth) bags.
In the meantime, does anyone remember paper bags?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey