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Ben Kearney has inspired people right across Australia and around the world with his successful environmental campaign to make Coles Bay, Tasmania, 'Australia's First Plastic Bag Free Town'.
The local bakery owner worked for months in partnership with Planet Ark to achieve this landmark result that was realised in April 2003. All retail outlets in Coles Bay, including both supermarkets, have banned plastic check out shopping bags.
The project began when Ben, who is also president of the Coles Bay Tourism Association, had a chance meeting with John Dee, founder of Planet Ark. As the two talked about how retail outlets could become more environmentally friendly they laughed about removing all plastic bags from the town.
When Ben pitched the idea at a tourism association meeting, the response was enthusiastic. All agreed the initiative would protect the annual migration of whales along the eastern seaboard and help reduce litter in the adjoining Freycinet National Park.
All of the town's residents were issued with five calico bags, and on Anzac Day 2003 retailers stopped issuing plastic bags, instead offering 25 cent reusable paper bags or $2.50 calico bags. In the first twelve months, they stopped the use of 350,000 plastic check-out bags.
As a result, Coles Bay was awarded the Environmental Excellence Award by the Tasmanian Government.
Ben was awarded the National Local Hero Award for 2005 at the Australian of the year awards ceremony in January and also Tasmanian of the Year in May 2005 for his efforts.
Through Ben's direction and leadership he has inspired the people of his town, as well as encouraging dozens of other towns and councils across Australia and the world to do the same.