Lightweight plastic bags are the thin bags commonly used in supermarkets and retail shops*. These bags will be replaced with reusable ones such as green bags, tote bags, and heavy-duty plastic bags that are designed for multiple uses.
The second stage of the single-use plastics ban will come into effect on November 1 this year, prohibiting the sale, supply, and distribution of plastic straws**, stirrers, bowls, plates, cutlery, expanded polystyrene food service items, plastic cotton buds and microbeads in some personal care products. From this date, businesses in NSW will no longer be able to use or supply these items.
The legislation also includes bags, bowls, and plates made from compostable plastics (including Australian certified compostable plastics), which are not intended for recycling. When these products are incorrectly placed in recycling bins, they can contaminate the recycling stream and disrupt the recycling process.
If you live in NSW (or any other state or territory with single-use plastics legislation), here are some helpful tips on environmentally responsible alternatives for consumers. Remember, reusable options should always be your first choice. Reducing your use of single-use and disposable products, whether they are made from plastic or another type of material, is always the best option!
Use reusable bags like totes for as long as possible. A UK study found cotton bags should be used at least 131 times to ensure they have lower global warming potential than conventional plastic bags (made from HDPE) that are not reused.
Use heavy-duty plastic and green bags (woven polypropylene) as many times as possible and then recycle them through REDcycle when they are no longer usable. REDcycle bins are located at Woolies and Coles.
Paper bags are also an option for lighter items. Ideally, these bags should be reused before recycling. However, if the bag has been contaminated with food or grease, it should not be put in the recycling bin.
If you love using straws, consider carrying a reusable straw when you go out. There are lots of products available that come with a handy carrier pouch and straw cleaner.
Plastic cutlery will no longer be available for purchase in supermarkets, so if you’re keen on picnics, consider purchasing a portable reusable cutlery set.
If you’re hosting a large party and find there is no other option but to use single-use cutlery, disposable cutlery made from bamboo or wood is an option. If you have a compost, some of these products may be compostable (make sure they are certified Home Compostable). Remember, compostable plastics are also banned.
Reusable silicone buds or swabs that come in a travel case are available. These items cannot be recycled at end of use, so they should be reused as many times as possible, ideally for years. In the absence of a life cycle assessment that compares the environmental impact of reusable silicone buds to disposable buds, it’s unclear which is the better option.
Bamboo stick cotton buds are available, but they cannot be recycled, so it’s best to avoid them altogether if possible. If you have a compost system at home, make sure these products are certified Home Compostable. Beware misleading terms like ‘biodegradable’, which has no industry standards or certifications.
How to prepare your business for single-use plastics bans
If your business or workplace uses any of these items, visit Business Recycling for helpful tips on how to prepare for the ban.
*The bans do not apply to bags used as barriers (produce and deli bags, bin liners, human or animal waste bags, and bags used to contain items for medical purposes).
**Exemptions apply for providing plastic straws to people with a disability or medical need.