NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says she does not need to ban plastic bags in NSW, "because 80 per cent of plastic bags" will already be banned by the supermarkets themselves.
Addressing a meeting at the Tweed Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Ms Berejiklian welcomed the recently announced plastic bag bans at Coles, Woolworths and Harris Farm Markets, but said they were the very reason she did not need to legislate a state-wide ban as Premier.
"[Coles, Woolworths and Harris Farm] produce about 80 per cent of the plastic bags in NSW, so in essence they themselves would ban the plastic bag," she said.
"I don't need to [put a ban in place] because 80 per cent of plastic bags are already banned. I don't need to put a law in for something that's already happening."
The comments have hindered hopes among environmental advocates, who considered the recent commitments from Australia's major supermarkets as a positive sign that there remained no more barriers to introducing a ban across NSW.
"Despite the action by Coles, Woolworths and Harris Farm, data shows that at least 10 million bags will continue to pollute the state's environment each year," said Jeff Angel, director of the Boomerang Alliance of 47 groups.
"The facts are, the retailers' actions are voluntary and not enforceable. Key business sectors have called for a level playing field; and the community wants a full ban.
"The state will be an international embarrassment, if it fails to enact a full ban," Mr Angel said.
Ms Berejiklian told Fairfax Media the government's current anti-litter priority was the 10-cent container deposit scheme, due to start in December.
"Containers that will be eligible for refunds under the NSW container deposit scheme make up 43 per cent of litter volume in NSW.
"While the NSW government recognises plastic bags are an issue for the environment, they make up less than 3 per cent of litter volume."
She said the state was continuing to work with other jurisdictions to "explore a national approach to reducing the impact of plastic bags".
State-wide bans of single-use plastic bags are already in place in South Australia, ACT, the Northern Territory and Tasmania, while there are plans for Queensland to do the same next year.
Mr Angel acknowledged the importance of the container deposit scheme, but said "governments could do more than one thing at a time".
NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said she fully supported "the Premier's strong commitment to reducing plastic litter across NSW and that is why we are implementing the container deposit scheme in December".
It is estimated Australians use more than 6 billion single-use plastic bags every year.
"The evidence is that we've already put too many bags into the ocean and bags have been identified as one of the top three threats to marine life entanglement and ingestion," Mr Angel said.
He said environmental groups still hoped NSW, Victoria and Western Australia would legislate to follow suit when Australia's environment ministers later this week.
NSW Greens MP and Environment spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi described the Premier's comments on Monday as "embarrassing and utterly shameful."
"Despite the voluntary ban by some supermarkets, there will still be millions of plastic bags polluting our environment. This attitude of 'no responsibility' from the Premier is disgraceful," she said.