Fremantle bans plastic bags and imposes fines of up to $2,500

West Australian council becomes the first in Australia to enforce a law banning single-use, non-biodegradable plastic bags
Brendan Foster in Fremantle 24 Jul 14;

The city of Fremantle will become the first local government in Australia to enforce a law to ban plastic bags.

The port city in Western Australia voted on Wednesday night to introduce a new law banning retailers from providing shoppers with single-use, non-biodegradable plastic bags.

Shop owners who ignore the laws will initially be fined $150; serial offenders could face a fine of up to $2,500.

The mayor of Fremantle, Brad Pettitt, said there was strong business and community support for outlawing plastic bags.

“The Fremantle community has long seen itself as a leader in environment issues and we hope this leadership will lead to a statewide ban in coming years,” he told the Guardian.

“In many ways you could see the Fremantle local law as a trial for the whole state.”

In January last year Fremantle tried to adopt a similar law, which Pettitt said “tripped up on a legal technicality around mandatory charges”.

The council wanted retailers to charge customers 10c to buy environmentally friendly bags, but the Liberal and National MPs in the upper house quashed the move arguing the council did not have authority to impose the charges.

Pettitt said the council scrapped the 10c fee after getting legal advice. “There is no legitimate reason to disallow the local law this time around,” he said.

The Western Australian Greens MP, Lynn MacLaren, said banning plastic bags in Fremantle was well overdue.

“It’s a testament to their genuine commitment that [Fremantle] persevered after being knocked back the first time,” she said.

“It’s time to eliminate this easily avoidable waste. It is good that the Fremantle council recognises that the community is environmentally conscious and happy to shift away from pollution habits that aren’t sustainable.”

MacLaren hoped plastic bags would eventually be outlawed in WA.

Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT have all banned them.

“South Australia is a great example. In 2009 the use of lightweight plastic bags was banned in the state with little fuss,” she said.

“Evidence from SA shows that banning plastic bags helps shift community attitudes to become more environmentally aware. Consumers bringing reusable bags jumped from around six in 10 to more than nine in 10 once the ban was implemented.”

The Fremantle Labor MP, Simone McGurk, said the ban on plastic bags was crucial for “preserving our natural environment”.

“Consumers want policymakers to reduce overall waste,” she said.

“There will be an adjustment period for consumers, but overall it’s a positive move.

“It’s also a good opportunity to see how it works in Fremantle, so it can be rolled out into other places.”

McGurk also wants to see plastic bags banished from the state.

In March 2012 the WA Liberal/Nationals knocked back Labor’s bill to ban plastic bags from supermarkets.