Posted: February 15th, 2022
The use of plastic bags by consumers is associated with several benefits and negative ones, such as pollution. Plastic bags are manufactured from non-renewable materials, but millions of single-use plastic bags are discarded globally into waste streams (Singh & Cooper 2017, p. 679). The issue is that degrading plastic bags takes several years, and most of the materials used in the manufacture of the non-degradable bags contain additives that damage the environment (Singh and Cooper 2017, p. 680). As a result, there has been a significant movement in legislation regarding plastic carrier bags in several countries over the last decade. Some nations have begun to prohibit or restrict the sale of plastic carrier bags (Jakovcevic et al., 2014, p. 372). Therefore, this paper focuses on how different strategies have been used to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic bags and evaluate their effectiveness.
The first strategy to deal with the environmental consequences of plastic bags is the legislation restricting the use of plastic bags. Some jurisdictions have passed legislation restricting plastic bags use, but all have allowed renewable bags (Jakovcevic et al., 2014, p. 372). For instance, Queensland is among Australian states that passed legislation banning lightweight plastic bags supply. Queensland government considers a ban on plastic bags is a significant step of ensuring long-term reduction of plastic pollution (Queensland Government n.d., p. 2). South Australia introduced the ‘zero waste’ program in October 2008 as the first lightweight plastic bag ban. The move is estimated to have reduced about 400 million plastic bags annually. Victoria implemented the same legislation in November 2019, and New South Wales was the last Australian jurisdiction to put a legislative ban known as ‘The Plastics and Circular Economy Act 2021’ on lightweight plastic bags that will be effective from the beginning of June 2022. Woolworths and Coles as the largest supermarkets that have replaced lightweight plastic bags with reusable bags since 2018 (Khalil 2018). The phased-out in the supermarkets resulted in an 80% reduction in plastic bag use nationwide, whereby there were about 1.5 billion fewer plastic bags in the environment (Ibid). Therefore, it is safe to say that legislative ban is an effective strategy to reduce single-use plastic shopping bags.
The second strategy is to focus on reduction measures. Several voluntary strategies can aid in the reduction of plastic bag usage. Some municipalities and stores have taken voluntary efforts to prohibit the use of plastic bags (Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, n.d., p. 14). The inclination of the industry is for voluntary measures. While some large corporations have already taken voluntary steps, others have not Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, n.d., p. 15). Lightweight bags were the focus of previous volunteer campaigns. Given that heavier-weight plastic ‘department store’ bags also constitute a littering and environmental concern, a new voluntary approach collaborating with department stores and other retailers should be launched to phase out heavier-weight bags. There is a likelihood that enacting restrictions on lightweight bags would increase the volume of heavier-weight bags.
A third strategy is to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic shopping bags is education campaigns. According to Kolff (2018), education campaigns can be effective in helping the target audience to take steps towards positive desired behavioral change. It is important that the education campaigns tell the audience about the issues and offer straightforward advice on actions to take or what to do about it. Instead of shaming or scaring people into changing, it becomes more helpful to create a positive buzz around the advocated change. It makes it easier for consumers to adopt new behaviors of using non-plastic bags, foster and sustain them, hence helping with the change (Wagner 2017, p.10). For example, the education campaign known as ‘what’s your bag plan?’ was created by Western Australia’s government urging shoppers to decide how they intend to carry their shopping once the plastic bag ban has been enforced (Ibid). The campaign showed shoppers that they are either be baggers, using reusable bags; boxer, using cardboard boxes; or juggling (using neither. This strategy facilitated the adoption of non-plastic bag use, which confirms education campaign effectiveness. The reason is that people feel like they are part of an inclusive movement that is relevant in their own lives and supported by the community.
In conclusion, legislative bans of plastic bag use and education campaigns on transitioning to non-plastic bags are strategies used to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic shopping bags. These are among the strongest strategies deemed effective when enforcing behavioral change among consumers. The alternative or option that customers have is the use of biodegradable bags such as boxes or reusable bags.
Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, n.d. Implementing a lightweight plastic shopping bag in Queensland: Discussion paper. Queensland Government. Pp. 2-19. Available at https://cabinet.qld.gov.au/documents/2016/Jul/Pbags/Attachments/Paper.PDF
Jakovcevic, A., Steg, L., Mazzeo, N., Caballero, R., Franco, P., Putrino, N. and Favara, J., 2014. Charges for plastic bags: Motivational and behavioral effects. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 40, pp.372-380. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2014.09.004
Khalil, S 2018. Ban leads to ’80 per cent drop’ in plastic bag consumption. News.com.au. News Corp Australia. Australian Associated Press. Available at https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/australiawide-bag-ban-leads-to-15-billion-fewer-plastic-bags-in-the-environment/news-story/678f21eb838fb6706baa370bc3b3ec29
Kolff, L. M 2018, Plastic-free campaigns don’t have to shock or shame. Shoppers are already on board. Available at https://theconversation.com/plastic-free-campaigns-dont-have-to-shock-or-shame-shoppers-are-already-on-board-98944
Queensland Government n.d. Implementing a lightweight plastic shopping bag ban in Queensland. Available at https://cabinet.qld.gov.au/documents/2016/Jul/Pbags/Attachments/Paper.PDF
Singh, J. and Cooper, T., 2017. Towards a sustainable business model for plastic shopping bag management in Sweden. Procedia CIRP, 61, pp.679-684. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procir.2016.11.268
Wagner, T.P., 2017. Reducing single-use plastic shopping bags in the USA. Waste Management, 70, pp.3-12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2017.09.003 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2014.09.004
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