The Opposition today challenged the Baird Government to support Labor’s plan to ban single-use plastic bags across the state.

Labor wants to see NSW become the latest and most significant state or territory in Australia to introduce a ban on the lightweight plastic bags that pollute marine ecosystems and put wildlife at risk. 

The proposal from the Opposition is principally based on the ACT model, which bans single use, lightweight plastic bags.  South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory also have similar bans in place, while Queensland is actively considering the proposal. 

Retailers would be able to sell re-usable bags that have a much smaller environmental impact.

Heavier style retail bags, bin liners, compostable biodegradable plastic bags and fruit and vegetable barrier bags would be exempt from the ban.

The Opposition is urging the Baird Government to provide bi-partisan support for the proposal after it was welcomed by leading environmental groups.

Labor intends to bring forward legislation via a Private Members Bill for debate in the Parliament next year.

Director of the Boomerang Alliance Jeff Angel, founder of Clean Up Australia Ian Kiernan and co-founder of Take 3 Tim Silverwood joined Opposition Leader Luke Foley and Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe for the announcement at Maroubra Beach this morning.

In NSW alone up to 61 million lightweight plastic bags are littered each year. CSIRO estimate that there are 124 billion individual pieces of visible plastic littering the Australian coastline and that by 2050, 99 per cent of all sea birds will have plastic in their gut.

Quotes attributable to Leader of the Opposition Luke Foley

“With more than 2,100 kilometres of coastline and tens of thousands of kilometres of waterways, NSW should take a leading role in this important environmental protection measure.

“More than 70 per cent of the rubbish entering our oceans is plastic, impacting on dozens of varieties of sea birds, sea mammals, turtles and fish.

“We have an obligation to take reasonable and sensible steps to protect the environment for future generations.”

Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe

“Across the country, hundreds of thousands of plastic bags end up in our waterways and bushlands. It’s an environmental nasty that can easily be reduced by reasonable policies on plastic bags. 

“This is about bringing NSW in line with other states and territories and playing a leading in conservation – particularly on the east coast of Australia.”


Labor will introduce a private member’s bill to ban the use of single use plastic bags. This will reduce waste, landfill and help minimise other negative environmental impacts of plastic bags, including to marine life.

The ban is primarily based on the ACT model which was introduced in 2011. For NSW it would mean: 

  • Retailers will be unable to provide single-use, lightweight polyurethane bags (35 microns or less);
  • Retailers can charge for alternative, re-usable bags; 
  • Bags which will not be banned include:
    • ‘Barrier’ bags: dispensed from a roll to hold items such as loose fruit and vegetables
    • Heavier style retail bags: usually used by clothing and department stores
    • Reusable bags: sturdy bags designed for multiple use such as ‘green’ bags
    • Biodegradable bags
    • Paper bags
    • Bin liners

South Australia (2009), Tasmania (2013) and the Northern Territory (2011) have all introduced bans on the supply by retailers of single use, lightweight plastic shopping bags. Queensland is actively considering a similar ban.

Since being introduced in the ACT, 71 per cent of people polled about the ban said they did not want the ban overturned and 68 per cent said the ban should be implemented nationally.

Environmental Impacts

In NSW alone up to 61 million lightweight plastic bags are littered each year. The bags take decades to begin to degrade, polluting oceans and the environment.

In many cases plastic bags enter the environment through storm water runoff. The light weight of plastic bags means they can easily travel deep into natural ecosystems and move long distance on the wind.

If not properly disposed of, plastic kills up to 1 million sea birds, countless fish and 100,000 sea mammals each year. Once those animals decay, the plastic is released and spreads back into the environment causing further harm.

A CSIRO survey of marine debris found that three quarters of all the rubbish along the Australian coast is plastic.

Along the Australian coastline, the density of plastic ranges from a few thousand pieces of plastic per square kilometre to more than 40,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre.