This article is care of Sydney Morning Herald's Small Business section (which I love).
Saying goodbye to plastic bags
June 30, 2008
Australians still love their plastic bags, but some small businesses have developed ways to wean us off our plastic addictions. Photo: Craig Abraham
As Australian politicians debate whether to ban or tax single use plastic shopping bags there are signs the rising price of oil may be acting as a brake on their wasteful use.
With oil surging towards US$200 a barrel, Australians are now paying a high hidden price for the convenience of the single use plastic shopping bag.
It only takes around a teaspoon of oil to make one single-use plastic shopping bag.
But with Australians using 4 billion plastic bags a year (360 billion worldwide) that is a lot of oil, and a lot of money, to be throwing away.
Greens Senator Christine Milne, whose party has introduced a bill to levy plastic bags, says consumers might have to start making some hard choices between keeping their 'free' plastic bags or paying even more for petrol.
Steve Wright, from the Polymer Co-operative Research Centre, says consumers are yet to make that link.
''I'm not sure many people know the same feedstock [oil] that goes into filling their petrol tanks is also used to make plastic bags,'' he says.
The International Energy Agency estimates the plastics and packaging industry now gobbles up around 8% of total global oil production.
Due to public awareness campaigns about their visual and environmental impact, plastic bag use in Australia has dropped by 45%. But that's far short of the 93% reduction in Ireland where single-use bags have been taxed since 2002.
In China their use has been banned outright from the start of June.
Richard Evans from the Australian Retailers Association says consumers want the convenience of plastic bags even if they don't know what their true cost is.
But if politicians, motorists and some shoppers aren't joining the dots there are some packaging businesses and retailers who are.
Green Bag is an Australian-based SME helping consumers around the world make more effective use of an increasingly expensive resource.
It makes branded reusable plastic shopping bags for big name clients such as Target, ANZ, Master Foods, Red Cross and Keep Australia Beautiful.
Green Bag business development manager, Elizabeth Kassell says the company was established to provide ''a practical solution to a serious environmental problem.''
She says one green bag lasts an average of four years and replaces between 1200 and 1600 single use bags.
Kassell says while most of her company's products are still not made from recycled plastic, due to a feedstock shortage in China where the bags are manufactured, it plans to introduce a re-usable bag made from 80% recycled plastic.
But Kassell says the most exciting part of Green Bag business model is what happens when the bags are reach the end of their useful lives, with the old bags recycled into synthetic timber by Melbourne-based company Replas. Green Bag offers to replace old green bags with free new ones.
''The last thing we want is to see green bags in landfill,'' Kassell says.
''Old green bags now get a second life as a bench, or a sign, walkway, boat ramp or decking.''
Kassell says Green Bag's take-back recycling concept is being extended to the school yard.
The company is also running a trial on branded recyclable plastic school packs which consist of an art smock, library bag, lunch bag, chair bag and pencil case made of green bag material for under $15.
''At the end of the year the schools packs get recycled into kids benches, tables and seats which get sent back to the school the next year.''
'The really exciting thing is the kids are seeing recycling in action,'' says Kassell.