Tasmania carries eco-fight, bans plastic bags

A township on the remote eastern coast of Tasmania has become one of the first in the world to ban the use of plastic bags.

Coles Bay’s population of 175 and its tourist shoppers will have to depend on paper or calico bags for carrying their groceries after the town’s businesses agreed to stop handing out polyethylene bags.

Every household in the town will be given five large calico bags for carrying shopping, and the local bakery has even taking to sealing up its loaves in a biodegradable plastic made from tapioca starch.

Coles Bay sits on the edge of the spectacular Freycinet national park and 180 000 tourists pass through every year on their way to the pristine wilderness. Ben Kearney, the local businessman who advocated the ban, said it would prevent damage to native wildlife from abandoned bags and cut the amount of landfill.

“Most of the business here comes from the tourism and that’s all based on the environment, so people were pretty supportive,” he said.

The ban is out of character for Australia, where shoppers are used to being given separate bags for the smallest items. Britons use 10 billion plastic bags a year but Australia, with less than a third of the UK’s population, manages to get through seven billion.

Only in the past few months have major Australian supermarket chains begun cutting down, in anticipation of government demands to halve bag use by 2004.
Environmental groups are pushing for a plastic bag levy like that in Ireland, where a 10p per bag charge has cut use by up to 90%. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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