ACT weakens plastic ban by removing fruit and veggie bags

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) is pleased the Australian Capital Territory government is taking the next steps on banning marine wildlife-killing single-use plastic with its announcement of the latest items that will be banned from 1 July.

But the nation’s top ocean conservationists have expressed alarm that the ACT government has broken its commitment to ban plastic fruit and vegetable produce bags this year.

AMCS plastics expert Shane Cucow said when the ACT introduced its plastics laws in 2020, the government had committed to act on the wasteful plastic produce bags next.

“Overwhelmingly, the public supported a ban on these items, as evidenced in the results of government consultations, so we are disappointed to see them renege on this commitment,” said Mr Cucow.

“Soft plastic bags are among the most dangerous plastics for seabirds, turtles and marine mammals, causing life-threatening blockages or internal injuries when eaten.

“While we are pleased to see the ACT phasing out plastic straws, cotton bud sticks and oxo-degradable plastics in this latest ban, we urge the ACT government to listen to the community who have overwhelmingly called for greater ambition.”

AMCS also highlighted the government’s choice not to ban disposable plastic plates. Despite being among the first jurisdictions to ban single-use plastics, the ACT is the only jurisdiction with a ban that has not committed to include single-use plastic plates and bowls.

“Sadly, by choosing not to ban these plastic killers, the ACT is now one of the least ambitious jurisdictions in the fight against ocean plastic pollution, falling behind states such as Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, who have all banned items like plastic plates and bowls.”

Despite the step backwards, Mr Cucow said it was promising that the latest ban included oxo-degradable plastics, describing the plastic as a “textbook case of greenwashing”. While described as biodegradable, oxo-degradable plastics have chemicals added to make them fragment more quickly, but they persist as microplastics in the environment.

“There are plenty of genuinely compostable alternatives widely available, but with greenwashing rife it’s hard for people to know which items to choose. It’s time to put our wildlife first and crack down on false solutions.”

Notes for editors

An independent scorecard comparing state and territory bans on single-use plastics is available here.

The ACT’s ban on single-use plastic cutlery, drink stirrers and polystyrene food and beverage containers commenced 1 July 2021, with straws, cotton bud sticks and degradable plastics on the list to be phased out on 1 July 2022 this year. Details here.

South Australia’s ban on single-use plastics commenced on 1 March 2021, banning single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers and cutlery. On 1 March 2022, polystyrene food & beverage containers as well as oxo-degradable plastics were added to the ban. Details here.

Queensland’s ban on single-use plastics commenced on 1 September 2021, banning single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers, cutlery, plates, bowls and polystyrene food & beverage containers. Details here.

Western Australia’s ban on single-use plastics commenced 1 January 2022, with enforcement delayed until 1 July 2022. The ban includes plastic cutlery, stirrers, straws, plates, bowls, cups, thick plastic bags, polystyrene food containers, and helium balloon releases. In stage two, now to be completed by 2023, takeaway coffee cups/lids containing plastic, plastic barrier/produce bags, cotton buds with plastic shafts, polystyrene packaging, microbeads and oxo-degradable plastics will be banned. Details here.

The New South Wales Government has passed laws to ban single-use plastic bags, plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery, plates and bowls, expanded polystyrene food service items, plastic cotton bud sticks, and microbeads in cosmetics. Lightweight plastic bags will be phased out by 1 June 2022 and the remaining plastics will be prohibited from 1 November 2022. Details here.

Victoria’s government has committed to ban single-use plastics by 1 February 2023, including single-use plastic straws, cutlery, plates, drink stirrers, polystyrene food and drink containers, and plastic cotton bud sticks. Details here.

The Northern Territory Government has committed to ban single-use plastics by 2025, proposing to ban plastic bags, plastic straws and stirrers, plastic cutlery, plastic bowls and plates, expanded polystyrene (EPS), consumer food containers, microbeads in personal health care products, EPS consumer goods packaging (loose fill and moulded), and helium balloons. This may include heavyweight plastic bags, subject to a consultation process. Details here.

Tasmania has made no commitments to ban single-use plastics.

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