Single-use plastic waste is one of the biggest environmental issues facing our planet. Steps have been made in some areas, but there is much to do. According to the WWF, on average, Australians use 130 kg of plastic per person each year. Only 9% of that’s recycled. Sadly, up to 130,000 tonnes of plastic will find its way to our oceans, where it endangers marine wildlife, and ends up in our food chain.
Despite many people using a little more plastic than usual during the global health crisis, we cannot forget our responsibilities to our planet and our future generations. There are many alternatives to single-use plastics, but it takes a combination of government policy and legislation, businesses, communities, and individuals working together, to make vital changes. We can all do our part.
What is the Single-use Plastic Ban?
In September 2020, in a landmark piece of legislation, South Australia became the first state in Australia to ban the sale, supply and distribution of single-use plastic products. Initially this will include straws, cutlery and beverage stirrers. The definition of plastic in the Bill includes plastics of both plant-based and fossil-fuel based origin. The programme will expand to include polystyrene cups, bowls, plates and clamshell containers, in early 2022. There is a framework for adding more items in the future. Oxo-degradable plastic items will also be prohibited from manufacture and production, because they contain additives that break products down into micro-plastics, which will never completely decompose.
South Australia’s ban on single-use plastics begins on 1 March 2021. So, what does this mean for you and how do you prepare?
Businesses and the Single-use Plastic Ban
If you are in business and usually rely on single use plastic products, you can prepare now by taking these steps:
- Remove single-use plastic from your future inventories.
- Use up existing single-use plastic stock.
- Research and order alternative reusable options, such as glass, bamboo, metal and silicone products.
- Research and order compostable options, such as certified paper, bamboo, or by-products like sugarcane – but be wary as some companies describe their PLA products as ‘sugarcane’. PLA is a compostable bioplastic derived from plant sugars. It can be made from any sugar, such as corn starch, cassava, sugar cane, or sugar beet. PLA’s can biodegrade in under 12 weeks in commercial composting, but this is often unavailable in every-day settings and items are therefore thrown into rubbish bins, ending up in waste streams.
- Install signs about the impending changes for the public and train staff.
- If people require single-use plastic items for health purposes, such as straws for example, these should be available still. Exemptions have been put in place for people with a disability or a medical need.
This is as much about a mindset change, as it is about practical changes. Get creative with what you offer – you might find it makes your business better and more profitable. You can involve your customers in the journey and share stories about how your business is doing its part. Consider how you can offer reusable items, within covid-19 safe guidelines, what compostable items are suitable and how you will ensure they are properly composted and not tossed into regular bins, where they end up in landfill and release methane while breaking down. Be a leader and encourage customers to stop using single-use plastics.
Individuals and single-use plastics
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of the things you need to do when trying to live an eco-life. With the distress experienced by many of us over the past year in relation to bushfires and covid-19, it can be even more difficult. It’s not just about the businesses who make and supply single-use plastics, but about the demand for these. If we stop using them and ask for alternatives, it only encourages businesses to consider their options and make changes that are better for everyone.
Here are some of the things you can do in relation to single-use plastics:
- Follow the 7 R’s of eco-living:
- Refuse single-use plastics in the first instance.
- Reduce your reliance on single-use items, even if they’re compostable.
- Repurpose single-use plastic items where possible – turn them into something else around the house, like labels for your vegetable garden, or craft with the kids.
- Reuse single-use plastic items – often these items are very strong and if you have them at home already, you can wash plastic plates and cutlery and use them again.
- Recycle unavoidable plastic.
- Rot any compostable items in your own compost, or the council green bin.
- Rethink your reliance on single-use items – do you really need them, if so, what alternatives are there?
- Take your own reusable items when you leave the house. Carry reusable cutlery, straws, cups, bowls and plates in your car, so you’ll have them if needed.
- Remember there’s a big difference between compostable, bio-degradable and degradable. Don’t get sucked in by greenwashing on packaging and be wary of the PLA plastics.
It can seem difficult to make changes at first, but every change starts with a small step. If we all take these steps together, we can have an enormous impact. Our oceans, marine life and our children, will thank us.
Fines will be in place from March 1, 2021 for businesses that don’t comply with the new laws. More information about the roll-out, fines for non-compliance, and alternatives to single-use plastics, is provided on the Replace the Waste website.
Jamie is the CEO and driving force behind Ecolateral, one of Australia’s longest running eco-retailers. Jamie loves that every day she helps equip people with the tools and resources to live more sustainable lives