SYDNEY (AFP) — Australia's government said Thursday it hoped to phase out the use of plastic bags from the nation's shopping centres by the end of the year.
Environment Minister Peter Garrett said billions of bags were being thrown away every year, causing pollution and harming native wildlife.
"There are some four billion of these plastic bags floating around the place, getting into landfill, ending up affecting our wildlife, and showing up on our beaches while we are on holidays," Garrett told Sky News Australia.
"I think most Australians would like to see them rid. We think it's absolutely critical that we get cracking on it."
Garrett, the former lead singer with protest rockers Midnight Oil and ex-head of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said he would meet his state counterparts by April to discuss the issue.
"We would like to see the phase-out implemented by 2008," he said.
The initiative comes after China this week announced that later this year shoppers would have to pay for plastic bags while the manufacture of ultra-fine bags would be banned outright.
Green groups welcomed the Australian move, but retailers accused Garrett's centre-left Labor government, elected in November on a strong environmentalist platform, of playing populist politics.
"Plastic bags are a part of our lives, if we replace them we are going to replace them with paper, and where's the paper going to come from?" Australian Retailers Association chief Richard Evans said.
"Do we cut down more trees to resolve the paper issue, do we increase greenhouse gases?"
Environmental group Planet Ark said most Australians would support the move.
"For too long, plastic bags have been an environmental menace, wasting resources and killing marine life, birds and other animals," spokesman Jon Dee said.
"This move by the government is a big win for the environment that will be welcomed by the millions of Australians who have bought and used reusable bags in recent years."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »