banning single use plastics

The single-use plastics banned in NSW this year

Single-use plastics are goods that are made primarily from fossil fuel-based chemicals (petrochemicals) and are designed to be disposed of right after use. They are commonly used for packaging and service ware, such as bottles, wrappers, straws, and bags.

Why are single-use plastics bad?

A huge 91 percent of plastics aren’t recycled at all and end up in landfills.

Plastic packaging and single-use plastic items make up 60% of all litter in NSW.

Single-use plastics in particular are hard to recycle, especially smaller items such as cutlery, bags, and straws because they fall into the crevices of recycling machinery and therefore are often not accepted by recycling centres.

Plastics that aren’t recycled don’t break down, they just break up into smaller pieces until they eventually become what is known as microplastics.

Microscopic plastic fragments are hard to detect and are just about everywhere. They end up in the water, eaten by wildlife, and inside our bodies. Exposure to microplastics, as well as the chemicals that are added to plastics during processing, harm our health, and the health of wildlife.

Many of the chemicals in plastics are known endocrine disruptors, and research has suggested that human exposure could cause health impacts including hormonal imbalances, reproductive problems like infertility, and cancer.

Change afoot

From 1 June, The NSW government is introducing legislation, the Plastic Reduction and Circular Economy Act 2021, that bans certain types of single-use plastics.

A phase-out of these items will prevent almost 2.7 billion items of plastic litter from entering our natural environment and waterways over the next 20 years.

The bans affect everyone… businesses, organisations, and consumers.

Consumers will no longer receive banned plastic items when purchasing goods, including take-away food.

Businesses, organisations, and anyone holding an activity for charitable, sporting, education or community purposes in NSW, will no longer be able to supply these single-use plastic products.

We all have a role to play in removing plastic waste from our environment.

Alternatives to banned items may be provided by businesses and organisations or, ideally, consumers can bring their own.

The ban also extends to compostable plastics and bioplastics.

Why are compostable plastic alternatives banned?

Most items made from compostable plastic and bioplastics look just like regular plastic but they can’t be recycled at the same facilities. They don’t biodegrade unless they’re treated in a commercial composting facility.

If compostable plastics or bioplastics end up in landfills or as litter in the environment, they won’t break down and create just as big a problem as conventional plastic.

Supplying compostable plastic and bioplastic straws, cutlery, stirrers, bowls, and plates is not allowed under the NSW ban, even if they’re labeled plastic-free.

If an item looks or feels similar to plastic, but claims to be ‘plastic-free’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘compostable’, ‘degradable’, or ‘plant-based’, it is likely to contain bioplastic.

City of Sydney has put together a eliminating single use plastic toolkit to assist consumers and businesses make the transition

What single-use items will be banned in 2022?

Lightweight plastic bags

From 1 June 2022, lightweight bags made from biodegradable plastics, compostable plastics or bioplastics will be banned, including those made from Australian certified compostable plastic.

The ban doesn’t apply to barrier bags such as bin liners, nappy bags or dog poop bags, produce and deli bags or bags used to contain medical waste.

Use these instead:

  • Consumers should carry a reusable shopping bag whenever they go out.
  • If businesses decide they need a disposable alternative, opt for a sustainably sourced bag or one made from recycled paper (remember: replacing lightweight plastic bags with paper bags isn’t a great option if the bags only get used once)

Single-use plastic straws, stirrers, and cutlery

From 1 November, single-use plastic straws, stirrers, swizzle sticks, and cutlery, including forks, spoons, knives, sporks, splayds, chopsticks, and food picks are banned. This includes items made from biodegradable plastics, compostable plastics, or bioplastics.

Exemptions apply in certain settings to ensure continued access to single-use plastic straws for people with a disability or medical needs.

Use these instead:

  • Consumers should carry reusables in your bag or take food back home or to the office to eat.
  • Businesses should consider disposable alternatives are also single-use items that often go to landfills as they’re too small to be recycled in the yellow lid bin. If you decide you still need disposable alternatives, talk to your supplier about compostable options such as paper, wood, or bamboo.

Single-use plastic bowls and plates

From 1 November, single-use bowls and plates are also banned, including items made from biodegradable plastics, compostable plastics or bioplastics.

The ban doesn’t apply to single-use plastic bowls designed to have a spill-proof lid, such as those used for takeaway soup.

Use these instead:

  • Customers can bring their own clean plates, bowls, or containers for takeaway food.
  • Businesses should consider switching to reusable bowls or plates for customers to use in-store (remember bamboo plates also can’t go in recycling bins and paper plates are often too contaminated to be recycled and require special composting).

Expanded polystyrene food (EPS) service items

From 1 November, all expanded polystyrene food service items are banned in NSW, such as clamshells, cups, plates and bowls.

The ban does not apply to:

  • EPS fresh produce trays such as those used for raw meat, seafood, fruit or vegetables
  • EPS packaging, including consumer and business-to-business packaging and transport containers
  • EPS food service items that are an integrated part of the packaging used to seal or contain food or beverages, or are included within or attached to that packaging, through a machine-automated process (such as an EPS noodle cup).

Use these instead:

  • Customers should consider dining in where possible
  • Businesses should provide reusable containers. If you decide your business still needs disposable alternatives, consider sustainably sourced paper, sugarcane pulp, wood or bamboo. Make sure that alternatives are not made from or do not contain compostable plastic and are certified food safe.

Single-use plastic cotton buds and microbeads in personal care products

From 1 November, you’ll no longer be able to supply or buy single-use plastic cotton buds and rinse-off personal care products containing plastic microbeads, such as face and body cleansers, exfoliants and masks, shampoo, conditioner, hair dyes, and toothpaste.

The ban does not apply to:

  • reusable cotton bud sticks, such as those with replaceable ends
  • single-use cotton buds with wooden, bamboo or paper stems.

Use these instead:

  • Reusable silicone earbuds that you can clean and use again
  • Many manufacturers have been phasing out microbeads in personal care products for some time. If you are concerned about microbeads in products you supply, look for the following commonly used ingredients:
  • polyethylene (PE)
  • polypropylene (PP)
  • polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
  • nylon (PA).
Enforcement and fines

The NSW Government is working with businesses and organisations to ensure they understand their obligations and has launched a statewide consumer awareness campaign.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is the regulator and will monitor and enforce the bans.

Fines may apply if you are caught supplying a banned item, with a maximum court penalty of 500 penalty units ($55,000) for a corporation and 100 penalty units ($11,000) for an individual.

Maximum court penalties are doubled for businesses found to be supplying these items while carrying on a business as a manufacturer, producer, wholesaler or distributor, with penalties of up to 1,000 penalty units ($110,000) for a corporation or 200 penalty units ($22,000) for an individual.

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