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Plastic bags are now banned in Victoria - $50k fines + 96% of Victorians support the ban

The Victorian Government has implemented a statewide ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags at almost all retailers across Victoria starting today.

The ban applies to all plastic bags handed out to customers with a thickness of 35 microns or less including degradable, bio-degradable and compostable bags.

Why is the ban happening?

Plastic pollution is an urgent global environmental issue as it breaks down into small pieces over time, which means the impacts are long-term and will become harder to manage.

In the past, Victorians have used 1 billion plastic shopping bags each year and 10 million of those ended up in the environment.

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Wait, aren't plastic bags already banned?

You might have thought there already was a ban if you walked into a Coles or Woolworths last year, but the supermarket giants have introduced a nationwide bag ban of their own.

The stores stopped handing out single-use plastic bags and instead started selling a range of reusable bags for a small fee.

And similar bans have been in effect for a long time in other parts of the country — including a decade-long ban in South Australia.

The legislation comes into effect in Victoria today and the Government says it will stop unnecessary plastic bags from ending up in landfill and waterways posing danger to marine life.

So what exactly is being banned?

The ban applies to all lightweight plastic shopping bags with a thickness of 35 microns or less.

And yes, this does include degradable, biodegradable and compostable bags.

If not disposed of correctly, research shows these bags may not be any better for the environment than standard plastic bags.

The new laws prohibit any person or business that sells goods in trade or commerce — including online stores — from giving away the bags.

That includes pretty much any store you can think of, including supermarkets, food outlets, clothing stores, markets, cafes, bakeries and greengrocers.

Which plastic bags are allowed?

There are quite a few exceptions under the new legislation, like those little bags you might find at the fruit shop, butchers or deli.

Others include garbage bags and bin liners, dog waste or nappy bags, medical waste bags — like those found at aged care facilities — and essential product packaging for food items, like bread and ice.

Most retailers will now charge a small fee for a heavy-duty reusable bag.

What happens if businesses don't comply?

Businesses could be hit with major fines of nearly $50,000 if they're found to be selling banned bags or providing customers with false or misleading information, about whether or not a bag is the wrong type of plastic.

But some stores, including Bakers Delight, have been granted exemptions. Bakers Delight placed bulk orders for reusable bags with 35 microns just months before the ban was announced in 2017.

The company warned those bags would otherwise go to landfill if they were not handed out to customers at their stores across the state.

Is everyone on board?

There has been a bit of push back from businesses and some consumers are opposed to the idea.

There's also some concern in environmental circles about the alternatives.

Some research has found that about 1 per cent of plastic bags used in Australia end up in the environment.

If heavier-duty plastic reusable bags reach the oceans and other habitats, they could pose an even bigger environmental threat because they take longer to break down.

But overall, the Retail Association says it's working with businesses and their customers to ensure everyone is prepared for the ban.

And according to government surveys, 96 per cent of Victorians support the ban on bags.

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