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Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Page: 9045


Mr ZAPPIA (8:45 PM) —The South Australian government has made a decision to phase out plastic grocery bags by May of next year. I raised this matter with one of the grocery retailers, who told me that they felt there was not a suitable alternative available for consumers when that happens. This was the Romeo Foodland Group, a family owned retail group that runs about 15 supermarkets in the Adelaide area. In discussions with them, we came to an agreement that they would trial a fully biodegradable bag for a two-week period. They did so with the specific purpose of seeing whether the bag would meet the objectives of shoppers and retailers. There was also the objective that if the bags were a suitable alternative then maybe more grocery stores would use them and, as the volume of bag sales increased, the price of the bags would come down to a level where supermarkets could continue to provide bags at no cost to their consumers.

We carried out the trial in the first two weeks of September. The bags certainly lived up to everything that was expected of them. Whilst the bags were made overseas, they do comply with Australian standards with respect to 100 per cent biodegradable plastic bags. In the same trial we trialled a bag that meets European standards—that is, 73 per cent of the bag is expected to fully biodegrade within around 45 to 90 days. Both types of bags did that. The purpose of trialling the European bag was that perhaps Australian governments might adopt the same standards rather than impose the current standards that we have in Australia as far as biodegradable bag use goes.

Interestingly, consumers supported the use of the bags. That is not surprising because the bags are as user friendly as any of the current plastic bags. They pretty much look the same and they feel perhaps even better than the current bags. They stood up to the test of handling the volume of groceries that were put in them and caused no problems in that respect. Importantly, at the end of using them you can dispose of them very safely because they are biodegradable. You can put them in your own garden if that is what you want to do or in your waste bin because they will break down. They will break down in a way that does not cause any toxic effects, as plastic bags do. In fact, one of the concerns with plastic bags is that, even if they are practical for every other purpose, the reality is that most of them end up in landfill and they take hundreds and possibly even thousands of years to break down and when they do they release into the air toxins which are dangerous to humans. That issue was taken up with me separately only a day or so ago. The bags are totally safe and importantly, if they do get out there into our waterways, parks and reserves, they are not a risk to birdlife, marine life or other living creatures. They are made of cornstarch oil and a special polymer that they use to bind it together. They certainly lived up to expectations.

I raise this because I am aware that in Victoria at about the same time there was a trial taking place in some supermarkets where they were charging for the bags—I believe it might have been 10c per bag. At the end of their trial the volume of bags that were used had decreased significantly, and that is welcome. But my concern is really this: there was a similar trial in Ireland some years ago where exactly the same thing happened. The government brought in a charge on the bags. Initially the number of bags being used nosedived but over a few months it steadily increased and now it is back to what it was before the charge was used. We need to find an alternative that is good for the environment, allows shoppers to continue to do what they want to do in the same way that they always have and, equally, does not cause additional cost to consumers. I am hoping that this trial will enable us to do that and I intend to forward the results of the trial to the next environment ministers meeting in November.