Plastic bags

In 2007, Australians used 3.9 billion lightweight single use high density polyethylene (HDPE) bags. 2.96 billion of these came from supermarkets, while the others were used by fast food restaurants, service stations, convenience stores and liquor stores and other shops.

Plastic bags are popular with consumers and retailers as they are a functional, lightweight, strong, cheap, and hygienic way to transport food and other products.

Most of these go to landfill (rubbish tips) after they are used, and some are recycled. In 2002 around 50 to 80 million bags ended up as litter in our environment. While the number littered has probably been reduced since then, it is likely that a large number still enter the environment. Once littered, plastic bags can find their way on to our streets, parks, and into our waterways.

Although plastic bags make up only a small percentage of all litter, the impact of these bags is nevertheless significant. Plastic bags create visual pollution problems and can have harmful effects on aquatic and terrestrial animals. Plastic bags are particularly noticeable components of the litter stream due to their size and can take a long time to fully break down.

The Australian Government is working with industry and the community to reduce the environmental impact of plastic bags. However, everyone shares some responsibility for this problem – from plastic bag manufacturers and importers who sell the bags, shop keepers who give them away, and the customers who use them. It is up to all of us to help find the solution.

In recent years, many people have started to use reusable bags, such as the ‘green bags’ you can buy at most supermarkets. Because of these efforts, the number of HDPE bags used in Australia has fallen from around 6 billion in 2002 to 3.9 billion in 2007. However, there is a lot more that can be done.

Through the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC), Environment Ministers have introduced a range of initiatives including developing national standards, codes of practice and best practice guidelines.

Plastic bag facts

  • Australians used 3.9 billion plastic shopping bags in 2007
  • Nearly half a million plastic bags are collected on Clean Up Australia Day each year. (source – CUA)
  • It takes only four grocery shopping trips for an average Australian family to accumulate 60 plastic shopping bags. (source – CUA)
  • Plastic bags are produced from polymers derived from petroleum. The amount of petroleum used to make a plastic bag would drive a car about 11 metres. (source – CUA)
  • In 2005, Australians used 192 HDPE bags per capita. (source – Nolan ITU)
  • 14% of HDPE plastic carry bags are returned to major supermarkets for recycling. (source – ANRA)


Plastic bags if not disposed properly may find their way into the drainage system resulting into choking of drains,   creating unhygienic environment and causing water borne diseases. Recycled /coloured plastic bags may contain certain               chemicals, which can leach to the ground and contaminate soil and sub-soil water. Units not equipped with environmentally sound techniques for recycling may create environmental problems due to toxic fumes generated during reprocessing. Some of the plastic bags which contain leftover food or which get mixed up with other  garbage are eaten by animals resulting in harmful effects. Because of the non-biodegradable and impervious nature of   plastics, if disposed in the soil, they could arrest the recharging of ground water aquifers. Further, to improve the properties of plastic products and to inhibit degradation reactions, additives and plasticisers, fillers, flame retardants and pigments are generally used, these may have health impacts.



The Harmful Effects of Plastic Bags

The need to implement various measures to save planet Earth has become even more urgent as we continue to inch towards an obvious disaster that we have created for ourselves.

Plastic bags are very popular with both retailers as well as consumers because they are cheap, strong, lightweight. Even though they are one of the modern conveniences that we seem to be unable to do without, they are responsible for causing pollution, killing wildlife, and using up the precious resources of the earth.

Once in a while the government here passes out an order banning shopkeepers not to use plastic carry bags for their purchases…

Every year, around 500 billion Plastic bags are used worldwide. So many that over one million bags are being used every minute and they are damaging our environment. India’s plastics consumption is one of the highest in the world.

Our planet is becoming increasingly contaminated by “Plastic Pollution” and by our unnecessary use of plastic carry bags.

Some of the harmful effects of plastic bags:

1) Plastic bags litter the landscape : Every year more and more plastic bags are ending up littering the environment. Plastic bags find their way into our waterways, parks, beaches, and streets.

2) Plastic bags kill animals : About 100,000 animals such as Dolphins, Turtles, Whales, Penguins are killed every year due to plastic bags. Many animals ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for food and therefore die.

3) Plastic bags are non-biodegradable : And one of the worst environmental effects of plastic bags are that they are non-biodegradable. The decomposition of plastic bags takes about 1000 years.

4) Petroleum is required to produce plastic bags : Since we have been using this non-renewable resource increasingly for our requirements like – Factories , transport etc. The whole world grinding to a half , if the supply of petroleum were be turnoff.