NSW Bans Single-Use Plastics

Businesses are now banned from selling numerous commonly used items as NSW introduces bans on single-use plastics which come into effect from November 1, 2022. The decision was made at a state and territory environment ministers’ meeting on October 21, 2022.

The Minister for Environment, James Griffin, said that it is just the “beginning of our massive shift away from single-use plastic.” He said that the confronting images, including an image of a turtle choking on plastic, symbolizes a push from the government towards the new ban.

As per the report, plastic packaging and single-use plastic items cause 60% of all litter which is why the NSW Government has taken the decision to ban more single-use items. Mr. Griffin added that only by banning single-use plastic items, Australia can prevent up to 2.7 billion items of plastic litter from being produced over the next 20 years.

What’s Being Banned?

The NSW state government had already banned lightweight plastic bags on June 1, 2022 and now more single-use plastic items are being added to the list. The plastic items that businesses are prohibited to supply from November 1 are:

  • Straws.
  • Single-use stirrers.
  • Cutlery including chopsticks and sporks.
  • Plates and expanded polystyrene plates.
  • Bowls and expanded polystyrene bowls.
  • Cotton buds.
  • Polystyrene foodware, cups, and clamshell containers.
  • Microbeads in personal care products such as face and body cleansers, exfoliants and masks.

The ban on single-used plastic items includes both products that businesses sell or give away for free. "Traditional" plastic like cutlery, which is biodegradable, and or, compostable (called bioplastics) is also included as the government said they do not “biodegrade unless they are specifically treated in a commercial composting facility.”

In June 2022, the NSW government banned lightweight single-use plastic bags less than 35 microns in thickness, including biodegradable, compostable and bioplastic bags. The ban did not include bin liners, dog-poo bags, and bags used for medical purposes.

Despite the ban, retailers were caught supplying the aforementioned plastic bags for which they had to pay a fine of up to $275,000. More than 69 reported breaches of the lightweight plastic bag ban were investigated following the ban, but the government has yet to issue a fine or a formal caution.

If businesses are caught violating the new single-use plastic ban law, they could cop an on-the-spot fine. Businesses still found supplying the banned products will face fines of up to $55,000, with a maximum penalty of $275,000 for failing to comply with a stop notice, the Environmental Protection Agency will issue.

What's Not Being Banned?

Despite the ban, people can still have access to several single-use plastic items including serving utensils such as salad servers or tongs, coffee cups, plastic cups, plastic bowls, polystyrene meat or produce trays and packaging.

Bin liners, animal waste and nappy bags will still be available alongside produce or deli bags and bags used for medical items.

Moreover, exemptions will still allow people to purchase plastic straws online, and from pharmacies, and manufacturers for accessibility reasons. Exceptions to the new bans include the availability of plastic straws to disabled people. The products can also still be used for medical, and scientific purposes. A two-year grace period permit is also reported to be granted to supply plastic-lined paper plates and bowls while alternatives are sourced.

The exemptions also include pre-packaged items integrated into the packaging of food or beverage products such as straws attached to a juice box.

Why NSW Government Bans Single-use Plastics?

The NSW Government took the decision to ban single-use plastic items after confronting images of plastic pollution in the ocean emerged on the internet. The images included a turtle choking on a plastic bag, dead fish, and masses of plastic floating in the sea. The move is to raise awareness about the damage caused by plastics to the environment.

Following the incident, "Stop it and Swap it" campaign was launched with an aim to remind residents about the dangers of plastic.

Environment Minister, James Griffin, said that about 95% of the litter on beaches and waterways is composed of plastics that come from suburban streets, while the majority of them are single-use plastics. The plastic items break up into smaller pieces and ingest and injure wildlife. He added that the number of plastics in our ocean is estimated to outweigh the amount of fish by 2050, and this horrifying prediction caused the call to action to ensure our sea wildlife has a better future.

The new ban is a policy designed to protect the environment and its gaining overwhelming public support. The NSW government says 98% of the 16,000 submissions they received about plastic bags were supportive.

All states and territories are taking steps to reduce plastic use but on different timelines. Queensland had already banned single-use plastic straws and cups in September 2021. However, they are only planning to extend its ban to cotton buds next year. Meanwhile, the Victoria state government is planning for bans on single-use plastic items in February 2023.

What if Businesses Still Use Single-Use Plastics?

The environmental regulator of New South Wales can issue fines to businesses that continue to supply banned plastic items. However, this will not be the first action they will take but the Environmental Protection Agency will first educate them and raise awareness about the bans. And if that doesn't work, they will issue on-the-spot fines of up to $1100 for individual businesses and $5500 for corporations. If the matter goes to court, they could cop a fine of tens of thousands of dollars. However, individuals won’t be fined for using the banned single-use plastics.

What Alternatives Are Available?

There is a range of alternative products available in the market to replace these single-use plastic items. There are bamboo items equivalents of most single-use plastics items such as plates, bowls, and cutlery, and stirrers. You can also find cardboard, paper, and palm leaf alternatives for cups, plates, bowls and other food containers. As for the packaging, you can use eco-friendly paper bags and clamshells packaging to contribute to the environment. Finding alternatives for straws can be a little trickier but there are still non-plastic straws available that are made of silicone and other materials.
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