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The Labor party’s commitment to introduce a national ban on single-use, lightweight plastic bags from 2021 should they win Government is one policy retailers, especially those with a national footprint, may have noticed amidst the noise of a fascinating election campaign.

However simple they may sound, new laws are always a complex proposition for retailers large or small to navigate. Different pieces of legislation in each state, with different consequences for failure to comply, makes this legislation even harder to deal with.

Retailers need to understand what to do if a customer demands a bag, what types of bags can be supplied, and what are the consequences if they fail to comply with the law.

Single-use, lightweight plastic bags of less than 35 microns thickness are currently banned for supply to consumers in South Australia, the Northern Territory, the ACT, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia. After initially expressing a preference for a national ban, the Victorian Government will ban single-use, lightweight plastic shopping bags by the end of the year. New South Wales is the only state not to have plans to introduce the ban.

The New South Wales Government has previously said it supports the ban and has welcomed proactive moves by big retailers Coles and Woolworths to implement their own, nationwide bans, without needing to be prompted by what it calls the heavy hand of legislation.

However, this lack of a single, unified approach to how retailers should implement plastic bag bans, how they deal with customers’ concerns, and how they train their staff to deal with those concerns, leaves many retailers adrift when it comes to understanding what their obligations may or may not be under the law.

Regardless of which party wins power on May 18, the National Retail Association looks forward to working with the Government of the day to take the complexity out of a noble intention.

We all want the same things for the environment and our customers. Let’s hope we can have a similarly unified approach to the implementation of laws around lightweight, single-use plastic shopping bags.