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Plastic Bags Statistics & Facts Australia

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by All Gone Admin

Plastic bags – those flimsy, seemingly harmless carriers – wreak havoc on Australia’s environment. Their impact has been profound and evident across several suburbs, from clogging up waterways to endangering wildlife. But what do the numbers say about Australia’s plastic bag waste crisis? 

Australia ranks second globally in per capita waste generation, with each individual contributing over 690 kilograms of waste to landfills annually. Surpassed only by the United States, Australians’ collective disposal of waste is substantial enough to blanket the entire state of Victoria each year.

Australia annually consumes a significant volume of plastic, estimated at approximately 3.4 million tonnes, with roughly 30% categorised as single-use plastics – items designed for short-term use before disposal. However, despite their brief utility, these plastics endure decomposition for decades, if not centuries, once discarded.

In light of these statistics and forecasts, governmental entities, local businesses, and consumers in Australia are increasingly moving away from single-use plastic bags and opting for reusable alternatives as part of broader sustainability efforts.

Let’s journey through the statistics to uncover the true scale of the problem and explore solutions for a cleaner, greener future.

The Plastic Problem: At a Glance

Colourful plastic bags

Plastic used to be celebrated for being so useful and easy to use, but now it's causing big problems worldwide. It's clogging up our oceans, messing our environment, and putting animals in danger.

As we deal with the tough truth of plastic pollution, it's important to grasp how big the problem is and what's making it spread so much. The main reason it's spreading so fast is that a lot of plastic gets made, especially the kind we only use once, like bags and packaging.

The plastic industry primarily caters to agriculture, food production, construction, and retail businesses.

Over the past five years, industry revenue is predicted to decline by an average of 3.7% annually, reaching $2.1 billion in 2023-24, with a further decrease of 3.2% expected in revenue.

Declining demand from downstream sectors and fierce price competition have put pressure on profit margins.

Increasing environmental worries are endangering plastic bags and film producers. These manufacturers have come under fire from environmental organisations due to the adverse environmental effects of their products.

The implementation of various state government prohibitions on single-use plastic bags in recent times has negatively impacted the manufacturing sector's performance.

Plastic Bag Waste Statistics

Australia is facing a significant challenge in dealing with the environmental consequences of plastic bag waste.

It's vital to grasp the statistics related to plastic bag waste to develop effective strategies for addressing this issue.

Let's explore the numbers to gain insight into the scale of Australia's plastic bag waste crisis.

What research says about the plastic bag crisis

Research conducted by the Minderoo Foundation reveals that Australians produce the highest amount of single-use plastic waste per person globally, averaging around 60 kilograms annually.

This places Australia ahead of the United States, which closely follows. In comparison, individuals in China, the largest single-use plastic producer in volume, generate approximately 18 kilograms per year.

In India, the figure stands at merely four kilograms annually. Globally, the average person generates approximately 15 kilograms of single-use plastic waste each year.

According to a 2021 report commissioned by the Australian government, the average Australian uses approximately 45 plastic produce bags, 50 plastic straws, around 70 plastic cups for hot beverages, and 35 for cold drinks each year.

These single-use plastics account for approximately one-third of the litter found on streets.

A substantial quantity of plastic is used in packaging in Australia. In the fiscal year 2019-20, over 3.4 million tonnes of plastic products were utilised in the country.

Among these, approximately 36% were allocated for packaging purposes (such as single-use items), 25% for other applications like clothing, footwear, and household goods, and 22% for the built environment.

Up to 130,000 tonnes of plastic waste is inadequately handled in Australia, contributing significantly to the country’s plastic pollution problem and devastatingly affecting the environment, marine life, and human health.

Plastic Bag Recycling Statistics

Statistics on the recycling of plastic bags reveal a mixed picture. While efforts are being made to recycle plastic bags, the overall recycling rate remains relatively low. In Australia, for instance, only a fraction of plastic bags are recycled each year.

 Despite the availability of recycling programs and drop-off points at some supermarkets, many plastic bags still end up in landfills or as litter in the environment.

Increasing awareness about the importance of recycling and improving access to recycling facilities are essential steps in improving plastic bag recycling rates and reducing the environmental impact of plastic pollution.

The latest study indicates that plastic recycling rates in Australia are below 13%.

However, there is encouraging news as the national recycling percentage for 2019-20 shows an improvement from the 9.4% rate recorded in 2018.

In Australia, plastic waste has a lower recovery rate compared to other types of rubbish, often ending up in landfills.

For instance, in 2018-19, 81% of recovered masonry materials were recycled, 76% of metals were repurposed or exported, and 65% of paper and cardboard waste was recovered. Among all materials, aluminium has the highest recovery rate in Australia, with 90% recycled.

What can I recycle?

Recycling offers an opportunity to divert various materials from landfills and give them a second life. Commonly recyclable items include paper products like newspapers, magazines, and cardboard, as well as various types of plastic containers and bottles.

Glass bottles and jars, aluminium and steel cans, and certain types of metals are also recyclable. 

Additionally, electronic devices, batteries, and textiles like clothing can often be recycled through specialised programs. It's essential to familiarise yourself with local recycling guidelines to ensure proper sorting and disposal of recyclable materials in your area.

There are two types of plastic bags:

1. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) bags - Thin bags are used by over 80% of retailers, such as supermarkets, and are recyclable at most supermarkets. Though not commonly collected in local kerbside recycling, a few councils are testing collection programs.

2. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) bags - Thicker bags are used by less than 20% of retailers, often for luxury items, and recyclable with limited collection points. Contact your local council to inquire about LDPE plastic collection.

Ban on Plastic Bags per State

Across Australia, several states and territories have implemented bans or restrictions on single-use plastic bags to combat plastic pollution and promote environmental sustainability. 

While the specifics of the bans may vary between regions, the overarching goal remains consistent: to curb plastic pollution and protect the environment for future generations.

Since the implementation of plastic bag bans in 2016, there has been an increase in the usage of heavy-duty plastic bags and reusable bags.

However, due to the significant decrease in the use of single-use plastic bags, there has been an overall reduction in plastic bag consumption.

As per the federal environment department, there has been a 90% decrease in the consumption of single-use plastic bags since 2016-17. 

This decline has been primarily driven by the implementation of bans in Western Australia and Queensland in 2018, followed by bans in Victoria in 2019, and most recently in New South Wales in June of this year.

The legislative measures are intended to lower the consumption of plastic bags, mitigate environmental damage, and promote the adoption of reusable alternatives.


Despite significant progress, Australia’s fight against plastic bag waste is far from over. Continued collaboration between government, industry, and the public is essential to build upon the momentum achieved through legislative measures and awareness campaigns. 

Moreover, investing in waste management infrastructure, promoting circular economy principles, and supporting innovative solutions are key steps in creating a more sustainable future.

Australia’s plastic bag waste statistics reflect the challenges and opportunities in tackling plastic pollution. While legislative action has significantly reduced plastic bag consumption, ongoing efforts are needed to address recycling challenges, raise awareness, and promote sustainable alternatives. 

​​Providing efficient and eco-friendly rubbish removal services in Sydney, Central Coast, Gosford and Newcastle, All Gone Rubbish Removals contributes to the collective efforts to reduce plastic bag waste and protect the environment for future generations. Together, we can work towards a cleaner, greener Australia where plastic bag waste is a thing of the past.

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