Making Sense of Single-Use Plastic Bans in Australia
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Making Sense of Single-Use Plastic Bans in Australia

15th Apr 2024 - 4 min read
Making Sense of Single-Use Plastic Bans in Australia

Photo by Jonathan Chng

The ultimate guide to help Australian Businesses ensure compliance with the phase-out of single-use plastics

With escalating concerns about the impact of plastic waste on our environment, the phasing out of single-use plastics (SUPs) has become a pivotal policy development worldwide, with a significant effect on the retail sector.

This phase-out of single-use plastic aims to mitigate the adverse effects of plastic waste on society and the environmental damage caused by fugitive petroleum-derived plastics that end up in our ecosystems, particularly those used only once before disposal.

Governments across various levels in Australia are implementing or considering legislation to ban or restrict the use of commonly used single-use plastic items.

For businesses, especially retailers and takeaway food outlets, this presents a complex landscape of regulations that vary by state, timing, and the type of plastic products affected.

Below, we'll explore the current state of single-use plastic legislation, offer strategies for navigating these regulations, and provide practical advice for businesses striving for compliance and sustainability.

Understanding the Legislative Landscape

The legislative landscape for single-use plastics is fragmented, with different rules and timelines across states and territories. Key items targeted by these bans include plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates, cups, and various types of packaging. The status of legislation varies widely, from bans already in effect to those in the consultation phase or with pending implementation dates.

For example, as of March 2024, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), New South Wales (NSW), and other states have implemented bans on numerous single-use plastic items. However, exemptions and specific timelines complicate the scenario, with variations in the applicability of bans to pre-packaged food and beverage products, certified compostable plastics, and items such as plastic-lined coffee cups and takeaway containers.

Western Australia recently banned plastic cups and lids (March 2024), and South Australia is banning them in September. Meanwhile, Western Australia currently doesn't accept compostable cups or lids in FOGO (Food Organics and Garden Organics green bins) due to possible PFAS chemicals, but South Australia does.

It's confusing and requires a lot of effort for businesses to navigate. It is expected to remain this way until we achieve federally directed harmonisation across the states and/or a national plastics plan.

To keep track of the status of specific items in each state, the National Retail Association has an excellent Summary Table on current and proposed legislation. Given the frequency of changes across the states, the link is updated regularly.


The Current Status of Plastic Legislation, March 2024 - Courtesy of the National Retail Association

Businesses can also deploy some practical strategies to help manage and de-risk the rapidly evolving complexity of these plastic bans and regulations.

Practical compliance and sustainability strategies for businesses

Stay informed

Regularly check for updates on single-use plastic regulations to ensure ongoing compliance and to anticipate future changes. Keep abreast of both current and upcoming legislation in your state or territory. This includes understanding exemptions and the timeline for future bans.

Set up Google alerts for key terms relevant to your business, and regularly check the National Retail Association Summary Table mentioned above.

Evaluate your products

Assess which of your products are affected by current or impending regulations. Consider products or the items you sell and the packaging you use.

Audit your business and identify all the plastic products and packaging within your business operations and supply chain. This assessment will highlight areas requiring immediate attention and help prioritise actions. Phantm can help with this.

Explore alternatives

Investigate sustainable alternatives for banned items. This might include switching recycled and recyclable materials, simplifying packaging design, or developing other eco-friendly options.

But beware of products made from 'degradable plastic' or 'oxo-degradable plastic,' as many of these materials are included in the bans, as are many 'compostable' bags and coffee cups.

Educate your staff and customers

Your employees and customers need to understand the changes and the reasons behind them. Educate them on the environmental impact of plastic pollution and the benefits of alternatives. Train your staff on the importance of sustainability practices and how to effectively promote alternatives to customers.

Weaving ISO-certified datasets and impact statistics into your educational communications and storytelling is an effective way to communicate impact and get your message across to stakeholders and customers.

Use signage, social media, and other communication channels to inform customers about the changes and why they are essential for environmental sustainability.

Innovate packaging design

Consider this an opportunity to innovate in your product offerings and packaging materials. Investment in sustainability can also be a market differentiator that ladders your brand above competitors by appealing to environmentally conscious consumers.

Collaborate with stakeholders

Engage with suppliers, recyclers, and waste management services to explore comprehensive solutions that reduce your environmental impact.

However, packaging suppliers and solution providers can talk their own book and be selective with the impact data they share when selling their solutions or packaging material.

An independent guide that can work with all stakeholders and assess options by conducting Lifecycle Assessments (LCAs) using ISO-certified data will ensure you are making informed packaging decisions.

Advocate for consistency

Given the challenges of navigating a patchwork of regulations, businesses can benefit from advocating for nationally consistent and harmonised legislation. This would provide clarity and reduce compliance burdens, especially for companies operating across multiple jurisdictions.

If compostable materials are to fulfil their potential as a solution, businesses also need to advocate to Governments and EPAs for robust certification standards matched to the appropriate composting infrastructure so consumers can put these materials in their green FOGO bins.

Report and reflect

Monitor the impact of these changes on your business and adjust your strategies accordingly. Feedback from customers and staff, in addition to ongoing reporting, can provide valuable insights for continuous improvement.

Systems change is coming

The shift away from single-use plastics represents a significant but necessary challenge for businesses if we are to reduce plastic pollution and its impact on our ecosystems. Businesses can navigate these changes by staying informed, exploring sustainable alternatives, and engaging with the broader supply chain.

Ultimately, the move towards more sustainable practices offers not only compliance with legislative requirements but also an opportunity to lead in corporate social responsibility, align with consumer values, and contribute positively to solving the plastic crisis.

As legislation continues to evolve, businesses that proactively adapt, anticipate systems change and innovate accordingly will be well-positioned to thrive in a more sustainable society.

Filed under: Regulations

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