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Article Australia: Ban on Single-Use Plastic Products Enacted in Australian Capital Territory

(May 10, 2021) On April 8, 2021, the Plastic Reduction Act 2021 (ACT) was notified in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Legislation Register, with the relevant bill having been passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly on March 31, 2021. According to the revised explanatory statement for the bill, the legislation gives effect to a phase-out of single-use plastic agreed to in the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement between the Labor Party and the Greens. The legislation

aims to reduce the use of plastic in the ACT, particularly single-use plastic, by prohibiting the supply of identified single-use plastic items. These create significant issues for the ACT’s environment (e.g. through litter) and waste management and resource recovery sector (e.g. ending up in landfill or becoming contamination in the ACT Materials Recovery Facility). It also establishes a framework for adding other products in the future, and absorbs the existing plastic shopping bag ban to streamline plastic-related regulation in the ACT.

Consultation on phasing out single-use plastics was undertaken in 2019, resulting in more than 3,300 interactions. The bill was subsequently introduced in December 2020.

Under the legislation, from July 1, 2021, “the following three items will be prohibited from sale, supply or distribution in the ACT”:

    1. Single-use plastic cutlery (including bioplastic cutlery)
    2. Single-use plastic stirrers (including bioplastic stirrers)
    3. Expanded polystyrene takeaway food and beverage containers.

Ideally, businesses are encouraged to try to avoid these single-use items entirely by using reusable alternatives. If this is not possible, the items can be replaced with acceptable single-use alternatives.

In addition, “public events can also be declared as single-use plastic-free. This means that other single-use plastics may be banned at certain public events, beyond the initial items listed. These events could include ACT Government events such as Floriade, or major festivals and sporting fixtures. Any declaration will happen in consultation with the event organisers.”

The ACT government further explains that, from July 1, 2022, “a second tranche of items is expected to be prohibited in the ACT.” This will follow consultation with stakeholders, but may include items such as single-use plastic straws (“with exemptions for those who need them”); single-use plastic fruit and vegetable “barrier bags”; and “[a]ll plastic products made from degradable plastic, which have additives which enable the plastic to break down into tiny fragments (‘microplastics’) which do not completely decompose.” In addition, from July 1, 2023, “other problematic single-use plastic products such as plastic-lined single-use coffee cups and lids, single-use plastic dinnerware, boutique or heavyweight plastic bags, and cotton ear buds with plastic sticks will be considered for phase out.”

Similar Bans in Other Australian Jurisdictions

The ACT will become the second Australian jurisdiction to ban on single-use plastics when the new legislation comes into effect in July 2021. On March 1, 2021, South Australia became the first jurisdiction to implement such a ban, when the Single-use and Other Plastic Products (Waste Avoidance) Act 2020 (SA) came into force. From that date, “[s]ingle-use plastic straws, cutlery and stirrers will be prohibited from sale, supply or distribution in South Australia including bioplastic alternatives. These single-use items can be replaced with reusable and plastic-free compostable alternatives. Exemptions apply for single-use plastic straws.” Bans on further products, including expanded polystyrene cups, bowls, plates, clamshell containers, and “oxo-degradable plastic products,” will be banned from March 1, 2022.

Queensland’s ban on certain single-use plastic items will commence on September 1, 2021, following its enactment of the Waste Reduction and Recycling (Plastic Items) Amendment Act 2021 (Qld) in March 2021. The ban will apply to “[p]olystyrene foam food containers and cups as well as single-use plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery and plates.” The legislation also makes provision for additional items to be banned through regulation in the future.

In addition, in February 2021, the government of Victoria announced that it would phase-out and ban from sale or supply “[s]ingle-use straws, cutlery, plates, drink-stirrers, expanded polystyrene food and drink containers, and cotton bud sticks” by February 2023. The government will “lead by example,” phasing out certain single-use plastic items from government departments and agencies by February 2022.

The government of Western Australia similarly announced its plans to phase out single-use plastic items in November 2020, including the development and implementation, by 2023, of regulations “for the State-wide phase-out of plastic plates, cutlery, stirrers, straws, thick plastic bags, polystyrene food containers and helium balloon releases.” Following that, the state government “will phase-out plastic barrier/produce bags, cotton buds with plastic shafts, polystyrene packaging, microbeads, and oxo-degradable plastics.”

In addition, all Australian jurisdictions except New South Wales have implemented bans on lightweight plastic shopping bags in recent years.

National Actions

At the federal level, in March 2021 the Australian government launched the National Plastics Plan 2021. This sets out the government’s goals to “reduce plastic waste and increase recycling rates”; “find alternatives to the plastics we don’t need”; and “reduce the amount of plastics impacting our environment.” To achieve this, the Plan states that the government will

  • phase out the most problematic plastics
  • work to make our beaches and oceans free of plastic
  • bring in legislation to ensure Australia takes responsibility for its plastic waste
  • invest to increase our recycling capacity
  • research to find new recycling technologies and alternatives to the plastics we don’t need
  • support the community to help Australian’s recycling efforts.

Furthermore, at a meeting of federal, state, and territory environment ministers on April 15, 2021, the ministers

identified eight ‘problematic and unnecessary’ plastic product types for industry to phase out nationally by 2025 (or sooner in some cases) under the National Waste Policy Action Plan. These are lightweight plastic bags; plastic products misleadingly termed as ‘degradable’; plastic straws; plastic utensils and stirrers; expanded polystyrene (EPS) consumer food containers (e.g. cups and clamshells); EPS consumer goods packaging (loose fill and moulded); and microbeads in personal health care products.

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