As of March 1, 2022, the second stage of the single-use plastics ban in South Australia is in effect. Expanded polystyrene cups, bowls, plates, and clamshell containers and oxo-degradable plastic products are now prohibited from sale, supply or distribution throughout the state.
The first of its kind in Australia, the pioneering Single-use and Other Plastic Products (Waste Avoidance) Act 2020 policy received an overwhelmingly positive response from the public when it was first proposed in a discussion paper in 2019, before being passed by parliament in September 2020. This promptly led to other governments jumping on the single-use plastics ban-wagon, so to speak, with similar versions of the legislation popping up around the country in the years to follow.
Under the legislation, from March 1, 2021, single-use plastic straws, cutlery and beverage stirrers were prohibited from sale, supply or distribution in South Australia. Exemptions apply in some circumstances, such as allowing access to single-use straws for disability or medical needs. According to the South Australian Government, the first stage of the single-use plastics legislation has been hugely successful with broad adoption by the public and the introduction of a range of more sustainable alternatives to the market.
What on earth are oxo-degradable plastic products?
Most people are familiar with polystyrene, but the second stage of the South Australian single-use plastics ban also incorporates oxo-degradable plastic products, including additives to accelerate their fragmentation. The manufacture and production of these products are now prohibited, as well as their sale, supply, and distribution.
But what are oxo-degradable products and why is the regulation so important? Oxo-degradable plastic products are used to make a range of products such as shopping bags, dog poo bags and even plastic bottles. They are extremely problematic in both waste streams and the environment because they are made with additives that enable the plastic to break down into tiny fragments called ‘microplastics’, which do not completely decompose.
When oxo-degradable products make their way into the recycling stream, they can contaminate valuable recyclables and degrade their quality. When littered or sent to landfill, the products break down over time into tiny little pieces, which can then make their way into the environment and pose a threat to wildlife.
Regulation on all oxo-degradable products is currently not included in any other state or territory’s single-use plastics legislation. It is, however, being considered by NSW and ACT governments1. The WA Government also plans to amend its legislation to phase out these products from late 20222.
What’s next for South Australia?
The South Australian Government is now considering intervention on additional problematic plastics such as plastic cups (including coffee cups and their lids), single-use plastic food containers, balloon sticks and ties, plastic bags and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. These products would be progressively banned over a three-year timeline, wrapping up on March 1, 2025. As in the first two stages of the ban, the timeframe gives businesses and the community time to prepare and for necessary communication to be undertaken prior to the final stage of the ban coming into effect.
A discussion paper detailing the proposal was recently published by the State Government, which called on the community and industry for feedback. Once the feedback has been processed, a summary will be released to the public and a consultation process with business, industry and other parties will begin.
So for now, we wait. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the ban, the South Australian Government has created a helpful website which includes details of the legislation and tips for businesses that need to make the switch to more sustainable alternatives. Visit Replace the Waste.
1Turning the tide: the future of single-use plastic in South Australia, 2021.