Canberra's plastic bag ban is in need of a review

It is hardly a surprise that ACT Climate Change Minister Shane Rattenbury has ordered a review of Canberra's plastic bag ban.

The scheme was controversial for the territory when it began in 2011 and concerns have been raised around the ban each time a state or territory proposes and then enacts it.

Mr Rattenbury has written to environmental commissioner Professor Kate Auty ordering a review of the scheme including a "triple bottom line" assessment and cost-benefit analysis to see how it could be improved.

This is following his concerns that the scheme has led to "perverse" environmental outcomes with people throwing out the post-ban thicker bans after only one use.

When the ACT government first proposed the idea of a plastic bag ban many were quick to criticise what they considered a pointless exercise.

It was claimed that while plastic bags might be removed from the waste and litter stream in Canberra, supermarkets would see a steep increase in the sale of bin liner bags.


That people would be using their thicker plastic bags as rubbish bags is a predictable extension of this concern.

A review of the scheme in 2014 found it had cut plastic bag waste from 266 tonnes before the ban to 171 tonnes afterwards.

A survey of about 600 Canberrans for the review found that while 65 per cent of respondents supported the ban, 34 per cent did not because it was ineffective or because they had to buy bin liners.

Mr Rattenbury is right to seek improvements to the ban to make the bags biodegradable or increase the thickness of bags sold to customers.

But it will be rather challenging to overcome the territory's need to throw rubbish out and the fact people need a plastic bag or liner to do so.

There is little argument the ban is reducing litter in the territory - this week the Keep Australia Beautiful Index showed a 6 per cent reduction in litter volume across 76 sites.

The report said it was particularly evident in Tasmania and the ACT that lightweight plastic bag litter had fallen significantly and almost immediately after the bans came into effect.

Reduction of litter is good news, but not if it's ending up in landfill.