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Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are everywhere, and while they are convenient, they cause significant environmental damage all over the world. Every year Australians consume more than 4 billion supermarket plastic bags. Of these, just 3 per cent are recycled and the rest end up in our environment or in landfill.

Download Plastic Bags fact sheet (199.39kb)

Types of plastic bags

HDPE bags – high density polyethylene ‘singlet’ bags are the thinner bags used by over 80% of retailers, but predominately in supermarkets. These bags are easily recycled, yet rarely are.

LDPE bags – low density polyethylene bags are the much thicker bags used by boutiques and
department stores. These bags are recyclable, although there are few collection points.

The Environmental Impact of Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are lightweight and moisture resistant, which means that they float easily in air and water, often travelling long distances.

Threat to Marine Life
Every year over 6 million tonnes of rubbish is dumped into the world’s oceans, 80% of which is plastic, and a further 10% of this being plastic bags5. With an estimated 46,000
pieces for every square mile of ocean, plastic is responsible for killing 1 million sea birds and over 100,000 sea mammals each year. Turtles, whales and sea birds mistake rubbish for food or get entangled in it, resulting in painful injuries, or even death.

Landfill Space
Australians dispose of an estimated 4 billion plastic bags, or 20,700 tonnes of plastic, that can be recycled. Even plastic bags that are reused as bin bags end up in municipal waste streams and will never be recycled, filling our already limited landfill space.

Greenhouse Gases
When gas, oil and coal are used to produce plastic bags, they emit dangerous greenhouse gases. Large amounts of plastic end up in landfill, also a significant source of
greenhouse gases.

The solution: Say NO to Plastic Bags Campaign

Clean Up Australia is committed to getting rid of lightweight plastic shopping bags. “Say NO to Plastic Bags” brings individuals, the community, businesses, government and environmental groups together to Refuse, Reuse and Recycle plastic bags.

Learn more about the Say NO to Plastic Bags Campaign

What you can do today


  • If you are buying only a few items, consider carrying them.
  • When shopping, take re-useable alternatives like ‘green bags’, bags out of long lasting washable non-plastics or baskets with you.
  • Make sure that you keep these bags in the car or put your car keys in your reusable bags at home so you don’t forget them.
  • Consolidate purchases into one bag rather than getting a new bag in each store.
  • Remember, the thicker bags are not easily recyclable so avoid taking them, where possible.
  • Count the number of plastic bags that you use and aim to reduce that number each week.
  • Avoid putting items with handles into a bag, eg: dog food or nappies.
  • Avoid using small plastic bags as bin liners. Simply put the household rubbish straight into the bin, lay it out with newspaper first and rinse afterwards, use the rinse water in your garden.
  • If you can’t avoid a plastic bag, reuse it to freeze food, store. clothing or while walking your dog.
  • Keep a spare reusable shopping bag in your handbag or wallet.
  • Find a local supermarket that offers recycling facilities for plastic bags.
  • Return your plastic bags with the driver if your shopping is delivered.
  • Ensure that your bags are free from contamination (food scraps or receipts), to aid the recycling process.
  • Ask your local council if they have plans to include plastic bags in kerbside recycling.
  • Remember not to put your regular recycling in plastic bags, as this disrupts the recycling process and it will end up in landfill instead.
  • To find your local plastic bag recycling locations, go to: RecyclingNearYou.com.au