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Time to prepare for WA's plastic bag ban

As from 1 July it will be an offence for businesses to sell or supply lightweight, single-use plastic bags with handles and a thickness of 35 microns or less-whether or not the plastic is biodegradable, degradable or compostable. The Government however has incorporated a six-month transition period to allow small businesses to make the necessary business changes and deplete existing stocks before the implementation date of 1 January 2019.

Since its announcement, Western Australia's plastic bag ban has been widely supported by the community and industry, including some of our biggest plastic shopping bag users such as Coles, Woolworths and IGA. Others such as Aldi and Bunnings already support the ban by not offering single-use plastic bags to customers.

Why the ban?

Each year billions of single-use plastic shopping bags are supplied nationally, with an estimated five million littered in Western Australia. Western Australians used around 360 million lightweight plastic bags, or 140 bags per person in 2017.

While plastic shopping bags make up a small portion of solid waste and litter, they are not biodegradable and can have devastating impacts on marine wildlife and birds.

Research by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), has found that lightweight single-use plastic bags:

  • often litter our streets
  • end up in waterways and oceans
  • enter the food chain and pose a risk to public health
  • are difficult to direct into recycling process and do not breakdown in landfill
  • causes death in marine life
  • consumes significant oil and water resources

What does this mean to small business owners?

As from 1 July it will be an offence for small businesses to sell or supply lightweight, single-use plastic bags with handles and a thickness of 35 microns or less ̶ whether or not the plastic is biodegradable, degradable or compostable.

Besides making a positive impact on the environment and generating a greener image, the move can also help save your business money as you will no longer be expected to provide free shopping bags to customers.

If you wish to continue providing suitable shopping bags, it could cost more and you may need to pass these costs on to your customers. Customers however, are not obliged to purchase a bag and could opt to bring their own.

You may want to consider the type of goods you provide and if there is a need for further packaging. For example, if items are already packaged in a single container or packaged in a box, there may be no need to put it in a bag when it can be carried away by hand.

What bags can be used?

There are a number of bags that will not be subject to the ban, they include:

  • bin liners and garbage bags
  • barrier bags for unpacked perishable food such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish (food safety)
  • heavier weight single-use department store plastic bags
  • paper bags or cardboard bags
  • dog waste bags, usually provided by councils at dog parks and beaches
  • nappy bags

Businesses are able to sell or provide alternative bags to lightweight plastic shopping bags which meet certain criteria. Thicker plastic reusable bags, multiple-use bags made of recycled materials, fabric (ie. cotton), hessian, cooler, or heavier woven plastic ‘green bags’ are acceptable alternatives to the banned plastic bag.

Consider developing a marketing strategy around how you will phase out your current plastic bag use, and clarify what options you have available to prepare and comply for the ban. You may find your current supplier will be able to provide you with a suitable alternative.

Ensure you discuss the implementation of the ban with your staff and inform customers of the alternatives you have available to them by speaking to them and placing signage around your business leading up to the ban.

For further information on the plastic bag ban, retailers can contact the National Retail Association on 1800 817 723 or email

Promote your business using customised bags

If you want to target the right customers and stand out from your competitors, use the ban as an opportunity to raise your brand awareness and promote your business by investing in alternative bags for your customers.

There are great benefits to make use of bags in advertising your business or range of products. Not only is a custom bag a great marketing tool, but it can also help you spread the word about social media campaigns, sales, events and worthy causes. Think of the bags as a walking advertisement for your business or product, and at the same time, able to make a lasting and memorable impression with your customers.

Creating a custom bag does come at a cost, however when compared to other marketing tools they are a relatively inexpensive way to get any message across. It is advisable to do your homework to ensure you are getting the best deal available and that the bag falls within the legal criteria allowed post 1 July.

Everyone loves freebies! Consider giving out a custom bag to customers who have reached a certain minimum amount of purchase from your business. You will gain the attention of your audience and it will also increase customer loyalty. Alternatively, consider selling the bag at the check-out point.

When designing your bag, think carefully about what you would like to print on it. Consider including your logo, business name, website, and contact details. Apart from your logo design, you may want to consider artwork that represents your product, business or special campaigns.

There are many benefits in creating a custom promotional bag including your customers keeping and reusing the bags, solidifying their status as a loyal customer and being and effective marketing tool for your business.

Want to learn more about marketing and promoting your business?

Explore the many on-and off-line marketing channels and learn more about how to market your business, marketing tips and how to prepare a marketing plan and our affordable marketing workshops.

For more hints and tips for your business take a look at our practical guide on marketing and branding within our Building your knowledge series, or make use of our free business advisory service.

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