May 10, 2022
Most states and territories in Australia have some form of single-use plastics legislation. Find out below if your business is affected and how to make the switch to more sustainable products.
Not all states and territories have banned the same items, but most prohibit the sale, supply, and distribution of plastic straws, drink stirrers, plates, cups, cutlery, and polystyrene food and beverage containers. Some bans also include oxo-degradable plastic products (more on that later).
Use Business Recycling’s interactive map to find out which items are banned in your area (click on 'About the bans' to find the map).
To make sure your business doesn’t end up with excess stock of prohibited items, begin phasing them out now. Here are some ideas on where to begin:
Do a stock-take and calculate how long it will take to use up the items.
Stop ordering banned items. If you end up with excess stock you can’t use, they will have to be thrown away if they cannot be recycled, which is a waste of money and resources!
If you do have large amounts of excess stock, try contacting your supplier to see if they will exchange them.
Start researching sustainable alternatives to find the best fit for your business.
First, consider reducing your business’ use of single-use items and whether switching to reusable products is possible. Following the waste hierarchy, reducing and reusing products is better for the environment than any kind of single-use product, not matter what material the product is made from.
If you decide your business needs to use single-use products, it’s important to do your research to make sure you’re making the best decision for your business when considering alternatives to single-use plastics. What may work well for one business, might not be appropriate for another.
When purchasing new products, ask the supplier if the products comply with the ban in place in your state or territory. Ask your supplier to confirm if the products contain any form of polymer, compostable plastics, or bioplastics. The NSW Government has created a helpful guide for businesses with suggestions for alternatives to a range of single-use plastic products.
Compostable packaging is made of raw materials like paper, wood and bamboo that will decompose under specific conditions so it can be turned into compost to fertilise plants and vegetation.
It’s important to consider your business’ unique circumstances before deciding to use compostable products, as they will generally only have a beneficial impact if you have access to a commercial composting facility. Compostable products that end up in landfill are not necessarily better for the environment as they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as they decompose. Most will not be recyclable either. Some states are implementing bans on certain compostable plastics, so if using these options you will need to check your replacement items are valid for use in your state.
The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation provides a comprehensive decision making tool for compostable packaging in their Considerations for Compostable Plastic Packaging guide.
Beware the use of misleading terms that are slapped on products to make them seem ‘environmentally friendly’. If a product does not have any kind of reputable environmental certification, it may not have a better environmental outcome than plastic packaging.
‘Biodegradable’ refers to a material’s ability to decompose or break down by living organisms. There are no industry standards or certifications for the term. Products making this claim may degrade (as will most items over time), but without a specified timeframe this term can be very misleading. A piece of plastic that is biodegradable could take hundreds of years to degrade, which is not a good environmental outcome.
Sometimes these products contain additives that allow the plastics to break down faster into tiny fragments called ‘microplastics’, which do not completely decompose. Whether these products end up in landfill or they are littered, once they break down microplastics can potentially enter and negatively impact our natural ecosystems. In landfill they will also produce methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than CO2. Furthermore, biodegradable products that are not compostable will contaminate both the organics and recycling streams.
Products claiming to be biodegradable should therefore be considered with caution. If reusables aren’t an option, look instead for recyclable or certified compostable options and if you are unsure about a product, consider writing to the manufacturer or supplier for more information.
Oxo-degradable plastics contain additives that are supposed to help it break down. Over time, these products will also break down into microplastics and survive in the environment indefinitely. These products are being phased out both internationally and locally.
Discover how your business or workplace can reduce plastic waste with Business Recycling's free guide, How to Reduce and Reuse Plastics at Work.
Rachael joined Planet Ark in early 2019 after eight years working in media and publishing as a producer, editor, and writer. Rachael loves using her skills in content creation and communication to instigate positive environmental behaviour change. Outside of work, Rachael enjoys spending time in nature, listening to music, and patting dogs.