Photo courtesy of Media from Wix
In November 2022, the Australian state of New South Wales implemented monumental environmental legislation: a comprehensive single-use plastic ban that mainly encompasses various types of plastic foodware. Some of these plastics include: lightweight plastic bags, ostensibly “biodegradable plastics, plastic straws, plastic utensils and stirrers; expanded polystyrene (EPS) consumer food containers; EPS consumer goods packaging; and microbeads in personal health care products” (The Australian Marine Conservation Society, 2022). With this ban, New South Wales aims to diminish the total waste per capita by 10 percent, cut litter by 60 percent, and triple the plastic recycling rate by 2030 (Ferrier, 2021). And they aren’t the only Australian state to enforce such a ban.
As just one example of another state regulating single-use plastic, Queensland banned single-use plastics back in September 2021, including single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers, cutlery, plates, bowls and polystyrene food & beverage containers (The Australian Marine Conservation Society, 2022). Australia laid out a trajectory for its climate action plan in April 2021, where federal, state, and territory environmental ministers met together and outlined eight “problematic yet necessary” plastic products that industries must phase out by 2025 (The Australian Marine Conservation Society, 2022). Numerous Australian states, if they have not already enacted single-use plastic bans, vow to do so by 2025 under the guidance of the National Waste Policy Action Plan.
Much like how there are different expected timelines for every state, there are different expectations for consumers who require some of the items that are being banned. One example of an established exception to New South Wales’s single-use plastic ban is allowing people with disabilities or medical needs to use plastic straws (Rose, 2022). Though there are numerous other forms of exemptions, businesses and distributors who are both outside the exemptions and ignore the ban may potentially face consequential fines. Those giving out banned plastic “can face on-the-spot fines of up to $13,750 and, if pursued in court, can be fined as much as $275,000” (Rose, 2022). To help businesses avoid these fines, and to create a smoother transition for them, the National Retailers Association provides businesses with details to get ahead of the ban. They can also call a hotline for advice on how to move away from plastic use. Seen in cases like these, many Australian bureaucracies aim to unite the government and the public’s support for the ban.
The environmental minister Matt Kean himself voiced his passion for this initiative, stating, “The single-use items we are phasing out will stop an estimated 2.7 billion items of plastic litter from ending up in our environment and waterways over the next 20 years… We can’t keep sending our scraps to languish in landfill when there are huge opportunities to turn our trash into treasure” (Ferrier, 2021). As for New South Wales’s citizens, the government claims that 98 percent of the 16,000 submissions it received about plastic bans were in support of them (Meacham & Jeffrey, 2022). The “Stop It and Swap It” campaign in New South Wales relied heavily on feeling sympathy for animals negatively affected by ocean plastic pollution. For example, images of a turtle choking on a plastic bag, dead fish and masses of plastic in the sea were broadcasted across print, social media, and TV (Meacham & Jeffrey, 2022).
With campaigns, public support, and clear trajectories, these committed Australian states offer quick, effective, and firm legislative means to combat climate change—especially when compared to similar American initiatives. One of these movements includes when the Californian city of Berkeley ruled that businesses must use biodegradable foodware for take-out (Single-Use Foodware Rules, n.d.). There are many deviations from Australia’s much more effective system. The New South Wales government in particular stresses the insignificance and falsely beneficial nature of BPI-certified biodegradable items. In a statement, the New South Wales government said, “[M]ost items made from compostable plastic and bioplastic do not biodegrade unless they are specifically treated in a commercial composting facility” (Meacham & Jeffrey, 2022). Furthermore, Australia’s single-use plastic ban presents a standardized plan and solidarity among its states. In America, the city, state, and federal regulations on plastic vary greatly.
Overall, the New South Wales single-use plastic ban highlights Australia’s effective commitment to climate action and how solidarity can be found in national legislation. The quick implementation and the firm consequences of not following these rules ensures a powerful and practical shift from wasteful habits.
Ferrier, T. (2021, June 13). The Australian state set to cut single-use plastics by 2025. 7NEWS. https://7news.com.au/news/nsw-to-ban-some-plastics-next-year-c-3097120
Meacham, S., & Jeffrey, D. (2022, November 1). The Aussie state where these will sting businesses an $1100 fine. Www.9news.com.au. https://www.9news.com.au/national/nsw-single-use-plastic-ban-whats-banned-not-banned-november-1-explainer/cf6470ed-a263-4e0a-bd45-f2651aacf3a1
Rose, T. (2022, October 31). NSW plastic bag ban: how will it work and what will be gained from it? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/may/30/nsw-plastic-bag-ban-how-will-it-work-and-what-will-be-gained-from-it
Single-Use Foodware Rules. (n.d.). City of Berkeley. https://berkeleyca.gov/doing-business/operating-berkeley/food-service/single-use-foodware-rules
The Australian Marine Conservation Society. (2022, November 3). Which Australian states are banning single-use plastics? https://www.marineconservation.org.au/which-australian-states-are-banning-single-use-plastics/#:~:text=The%20New%20South%20Wales%20Government%E2%80%99s%20ban%20on%20single-use