City News

Leichhardt Sending Plastic Bags Packing

BY RYAN QUINN

Leichhardt Council wants locals to say goodbye to plastic bags, and they’re serious this time.

A council campaign is set to be launched in February and March next year, which will urge local businesses to go plastic-bag free.

The council will also speak with NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman and ask him impose a ban.

Manager and owner of the Friendly Grocer in Annandale, Sam Assaf, said that he would be happy for the council to ban plastic bags.

“The customer is so dumb and stupid, they buy one cucumber, they need a plastic bag for it. Just imagine how many carry bags we go through every single day, where is the plastic going to go?” he told City Hub.

“Why they don’t just get a big bag, everyone carry his own bag and get his stuff and put it there. It would be nice to force them to do that [sic].”

Mr Assaf said that a wide ban would give environmentally-conscious businesses like his more financial security, as it would level the playing field.
“For me, I want to do the service; I don’t want to lose customers. But when the law comes for everyone, customers will have to carry their own bags. I won’t just be the only one losing customers just because I don’t want to give them plastic bags,” he said.

Currently there are 3 billion plastic bags produced in Australia each year, according to Labor Leichhardt Councillor Frank Breen.

“Only about 3 per cent of those bags ever get recycled, the rest of them end up in rubbish tips or blowing around the streets, and particularly our water ways. That has a bad effect on our environment,” he told City Hub.

Clr Breen said that the NSW Government and big retailers were “dragging the chain” on banning plastic bags.

“It is something that is quite achievable. It was only a month or so ago that the state government received a petition of 12,000 signatures calling for the ban, which was discussed in parliament,” he said.

As well as the campaign, Leichhardt Council hopes to push the NSW Government to impose a state-wide plastic bag ban.

Currently, the ACT, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Tasmania have banned single-use, or “thin” plastic bags.

Clr Breen said that the Leichhardt campaign would target large retailers first, hoping for them to set an example.

“We’ll be approaching the big retailers in the Leichhardt municipality to come on board and sign a covenant. Which means that they will voluntarily take on board the ban,” he said.

“Ultimately we would like all the retailers in the Leichhardt municipal area, and that’s the ultimate aim, but you need to look at what’s going to be the most effective thing to begin with and that would be to get the big supermarkets on board.”

Leichhardt Council had tried in 2004 to run a similar campaign encouraging Rozelle small businesses to end plastic bag usage, but they were denied Plastic Bag Free status by not-for-profit organisation Planet Ark due to the limited success.

Only five Rozelle businesses went plastic bag free and 14 businesses on average reduced their plastic bag usage by 40 per cent by the end of the three month campaign.

Council were inspired by successful NSW Plastic Bag Free communities, such as Oyster Bay in Sydney, Huskisson, Mogo, and Kangaroo Valley, as well as Birregurra and Cannons Creek in Victoria.

Leichhardt Council meeting documents indicate the council acknowledges it will be a difficult task, as the successful communities had “no major supermarkets in their locale and on average had around 25 retailers in the town”.

In contrast, the Rozelle shopping strip had 200 businesses during the 2004 campaign, meanwhile the entire Leichhardt area today has 450, including three major supermarkets.

When her community went plastic bag free in 2004, Oyster Bay resident Alexandra Hills said that her area showed that “any city suburb with locally owned retail outlets can go plastic bag free at the checkout”.

Clr Breen said that local government did not have the authority to fine, only the power to try and persuade retailers to voluntarily enter into the ban.

Freemantle City Council in WA have also tried to pass a ban in 2012, with legislation currently pending in WA State Parliament.

Leichhardt Council documents said that the “Freemantle experience” demonstrated the “need for the States to introduce the ban to avoid the legal complexities”.

Clr Breen said that the ban will reduce the amount of bags which are caught in the council’s Gross Pollutant Traps, which prevents stormwater pollution entering waterways.

The ban would also eliminate the need for more trap funding.

Council currently hosts a Plastic Bag Free website which only received 101 visits between June 2014 and October 2015.