The sunshine on an otherwise dull environmental minister conference, was that South Australia are going it alone, and are going to ban the bag by the end of 2008. Victoria are going to “trial” a levy of an undisclosed cost per bag, in two undisclosed localities. South Australia really stick out as forward thinking in this and all recycling issues. I grew up in South Australia and remember when the 5 cent deposit was levied against every glass and plastic bottle and aluminium drink can. I can’t remember an outcry then, and it was a boom time for all of us kids. I remember waking up really early on a Sunday morning and heading down to the Loxton North Football Oval after a local football match with my brother Jim. We would carry about four big empty wheat bags with us and go around the oval and collect every single beer bottle and can we could find. We would make a small fortune, because each 375ml bottle was worth 1 cent and cans were worth 5 cents (and this was in the mid 1970’s). This was the way we made pocket money each week. Some weekends we would make at least $10, which to us was like finding the crown jewels and we would split it 50/50. We would even walk the road sides around our little community and do the same thing, hoping more for cans than bottles of course. Bottles were heavy! South Australia still has this system in place now. Sure, the cost of the deposit is passed on to the consumer, but it changes behaviours, because after about two years, there were less and less cans and bottles for Jim and I to collect. Football games were our only windfall, because drunk people didn’t care about littering and there were lots of those at country football matches! You only have to go over the border from Victoria to South Australia to see the difference this scheme has made. Victorian side dirty, and the S.A. side clean as a whistle! A national scheme would not only keep our streets clean, but increase the recycling effort many times over.
Anyway, back to the bags. Kim and I have been conscious reusable bag users since they first came out. The boot of our Hybrid is full of the things, and I can only remember having to throw one reusable bag away, because it was overworked and developed a hole in the bottom. We take them everywhere, to the supermarket, the greengrocer, hardware stores (Bunnings have stopped selling plastic bags ages ago), the library, taking stuff to charity shops etc. And would you believe that even though I pile the reusable bags up onto the conveyor belt at the supermarket as the very first thing in our shopping items, the checkout staff still reach for a plastic bag first. Weird, when you think they can see the mountain of reusable bags in front of them! Behaviours are easy to change, if you put your mind to it, and after a while it becomes habit. And as we all know habits are hard to break.
I know that it will be a resounding success in South Australia, partly because the deposit scheme is already in place, and mostly because if governments go with popular opinion on environmental issues, they, our elected officials, will come out smelling like roses every time. I still cannot believe that the Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett did not push for a national scheme. I really did like his band’s music, but I am beginning to believe that he is just too scared to take on the bigger decisions that are required in these next few years. Let just hope that the other states see the error of their ways and adopt a similar stance as S.A. has soon after.