NSW plastic straw ban: how will it work and what will be gained from it? | New South Wales


Single-use plastic straws and other items will be banned in New South Wales on Tuesday. The decision follows similar action to ban single-use plastic bags earlier this year.

We take a look at what this means for customers and businesses, and how it will be enforced.

What is being banned?

From 1 November, single-use plastic straws, cotton buds, stirrers, cutlery and some food containers are banned. This will also cover biodegradable, compostable and bioplastic products but will not extend to wooden implements.

There will be some exemptions to the rule, including allowing people with disabilities or medical needs to use plastic straws.

Serving utensils such as salad servers and tongs will also be exempt, as well as plastic items on packaging – including straws on the side of juice boxes and plastic film lids on containers.

Expanded polystyrene containers, like those used for halal snack packs and fish and chips, are also set to be banned. Other items including meat and produce trays will not be included in the ban.

In the bathroom, microbeads in some personal care products, such as those used in exfoliants and masks, will be banned, alongside single-use plastic cotton buds.

What other measures are in place?

Earlier this year lightweight plastic bags – that are less than 35 microns in thickness at any part – were outlawed. This includes biodegradable, compostable and bioplastic bags.

The ban does not apply to bin liners, dog-poo bags, and the thin bags for fresh produce and deli items in supermarkets. Bags used for medical items are also exempt.

At the time the NSW environment minister, James Griffin, said single-use bags are convenient but their impact is undeniable, so they need to go.

“Single-use plastic is used by many of us for just a few convenient minutes, but it remains in our environment for many years, eventually breaking into microplastics,” he says.

“Single-use plastic items and packaging make up for 60% of all litter in NSW.”

What’s wrong with biodegradable, compostable and bioplastic alternatives?

The government decided to include these alternative materials – widely seen as eco-alternatives to conventional plastic – because they often do not biodegrade unless they are treated in an industrial composting facility.

They argue this will create a problem if they were not banned at the same time, despite the gradual rollout of food and organic waste (FOGO) bins across the state.

How will the ban be enforced?

Businesses and distributors caught giving out banned plastics can face on-the-spot fines of up to $13,750 and, if pursued in court, can be fined as much as $275,000.

Work has also been done with the National Retailers Association (NRA) to get retailers and businesses across the details ahead of the two-stage ban implementation. They can also call a free hotline that has been set up by the NRA for advice on how to transition away from plastics.

How much plastic waste will be saved?

The government estimates that 2.7bn items will be stopped from entering landfills and the environment over the next 20 years as a result of the ban.

The move is part of a state government push to reduce plastic litter by 30% by 2025 as part of a wider $356m five-year plan that included the rollout of green FOGO bins by 2030.

What are other states doing?

South Australia was the first Australian state to ban single-use plastic bags, with an exemption for biodegradable bags, back in 2009. It then strengthened its stance with further bans on single-use straws and other items last year.

The ACT implemented its own ban in 2011 before Tasmania followed in 2015. Queensland then imposed its own ban in 2018 before Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Victoria in 2019.

Major retailers have also moved on this, with Woolworths and Coles almost simultaneously bringing in bans on single-use plastic bags in 2018.

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Griffin said NSW was making sure it got it right and had been developing a robust and thorough suite of policies, including the container deposit scheme.

“We’ve worked long and hard on the NSW plastics plan,” he said earlier this year.

“You’ve got to look at plastic in the entire waste stream, so how it’s produced, how it’s distributed and how it’s recycled.”

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