Why are plastic barrier bags an issue?

Barrier bags are a single-use item used to carry and transport fruits, vegetables, raw meats, deli items and seafood from the store to the home. Barrier bags are made of soft plastic that may not break down for hundreds of years. They cannot be recycled through the ACT household recycling bin and often contaminate the recycling stream. Plastic barrier bags can only be disposed of to landfill or through designated drop off points at supermarkets. When discarded as litter they can cause serious damage to our environment. Feedback from the community, businesses and industry has shown strong support for a ban on barrier bags.

Only single-use plastic barrier bags used by customers to carry and transport fruits and vegetables are being considered for the ban starting 1 July 2022. Products in pre-packaged plastic are not included.

What are the alternatives?

Option 1: Avoid the item altogether

It may be appropriate when buying small quantities of fruit and vegetables to not use a barrier bag.

Option 2: Reusable alternatives

Businesses may choose to sell reusable items and promote them to their customers. Canberra shoppers are already in the habit of bringing reusable shopping bags, so it is possible to extend this behaviour to include reusable barrier bags.

There are many reusable alternatives now available made from a variety of materials, including:

  • mesh
  • cotton
  • jute
  • muslin.

Option 3: Disposable alternatives

There are several alternatives to single-use plastic barrier bags. Supermarkets and fruit and vegetable retailers may offer alternatives such as certified compostable bags.

Type of barrier bag Benefits Issues
Certified compostable
  • Made from plant-based materials
  • Some can be composted at home and some can be composted through an industrial facility (depending on the material)
  • Similar look and feel to plastic bags
  • Needs to be disposed correctly to have the desired effect (turned into compost)
  • Can be confusing to know how they must be disposed of
  • Have a shorter shelf life than plastic (1 year)
  • Can be recyclable or biodegradable
  • Can be sustainably sourced

  • Not waterproof
  • Weigh more and take up more storage space than plastic bags
  • Some can be wax or plastic lined which prevents them from being recycled