$50k fines as plastic bag ban kicks in
Victorian retailers who supply single-use plastic bags to customers could be fined $49,500 per offence under new laws that come into effect on Friday.
The state's plastic bag ban applies to retail outlets including supermarkets, fashion boutiques, fast-food outlets, convenience stores and service stations, but also individuals - including those operating online stores and markets - who face fines of $9900 per offence.
The Victorian law makes it illegal for any retailer to supply "lightweight plastic shopping bags with handles with a thickness of 35 microns or less at any part of the bag, including degradable, biodegradable and compostable bags".
Retailers cannot provide banned bags to customers, whether new or reused. Lightweight produce bags for unpackaged foodstuffs like fruit, meat or seafood are not affected by the ban, but retailers can't use them as substitutes for banned bags.
The same penalties also apply for any individual, supplier or manufacturer who provides false or misleading information about "the composition of a banned bag, or whether or not a bag is a banned plastic bag".
In a statement announcing the introduction of the legislation to parliament earlier this year, Victorian Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said the ban was a crucial step in protecting the state's rivers, waterways, oceans and wildlife from plastic pollution.
"Plastic pollution is a significant environmental problem - the actions we take now will help ensure Victoria has a clean and bright future," Ms D'Ambrosio said.
"The feedback on this one was clear. Victorians want to do more to protect the environment from the damage litter causes and are overwhelmingly supportive of banning single-use plastic shopping bags.
"We've been working closely with businesses to plan for the ban ahead of November and we'll continue to look at ways we can reduce other types of plastic pollution across Victoria."
Single-use plastic bags have already been banned in South Australia, Queensland, the ACT, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, but not NSW. Victoria announced its ban in 2018 but gave retailers until this year to run down stock.
Most major retailers including Coles and Woolworths proactively removed single-use bags from their stores nationwide last year, sparking backlash from some customers who struggled to adapt to the change.
Coles and Woolworths said the bag ban diverted about 4.7 billion single-use plastic bags from landfill in 12 months, although some researchers have suggested the policy may be doing more harm than good due to the increase in sales of thicker garbage bin bags.
The National Retail Association, which has partnered with the Victorian Government to educate business owners about the ban, said thousands of businesses had already made the switch to sustainable bags made from recycled paper or sustainable plastic ahead of the change.
"Overwhelmingly retailers are embracing this policy," NRA chief executive Dominique Lamb said in a statement. "We know that consumers are very supportive, and most businesses have already moved to implement more sustainable options well ahead of Friday's deadline."
Ms Lamb said experience in other states suggested "both consumers and business owners will continue to develop their understanding of the new rules in the weeks and months ahead". "And we're confident that officials will focus their efforts on educating - rather than punishing - businesses who are still coming to terms with the new rules," she said.