What single-use plastics bans are in place in Australia?

Bans on the sale and supply of single-use plastics are slowly gathering pace across Australia

single-use plastics, plastic cutlery
Single-use plastics cutlery and straws are now prohibited in some places

State and Territory bans on the sale and supply of single-use plastics are slowly gathering pace across Australia.  South Australia’s ban on the sale or supply of covering single-use plastic drinking straws, cutlery and beverage stirrers began on a1 March 2021. Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) are set to follow suit later in the year.  

Victoria is the latest to announce future single-use plastic bans. In addition, the Australian Government recently released its National Plastics Plan and plans to phase out “problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic”. Industry is also responding with voluntary removal of single-use plastic items.

Get in touch (by phone or email) if you would like further information on Australia’s single-use plastics bans. Click here for information on international developments.

What are the State and Territory bans on single-use plastics?

Two states have passed legislation: South Australia and Queensland.  The first stage of South Australia’s bans commenced on 1 March 2021 covering single-use plastic drinking straws, cutlery and beverage stirrers. A second stage covering expanded polystyrene cups, bowls plates and clamshell containers is due to begin on 1 March 2022.  Queensland’s legislation is expected to commence on 1 September 2021 and will ban single-use plastic plates, bowls, cutlery, straws and stirrers.  Both South Australia and Queensland’s laws foreshadow that other types of single-use plastics may be prohibited in coming years.

The ACT has draft legislation which is expected to become law this year. It will outlaw single-use expanded polystyrene containers for serving food or beverages, single-use plastic beverage stirrers and single-use plastic cutlery.  The ban is expected to commence on 1 July 2021.

Western Australia has released detailed policy to ban single-use plastic items. NSW has a discussion paper that mentions that it intends to prohibit single-use plastics, but no firm policy yet.

Victoria is the latest to announce that it will ban single-use plastics.  In late February, the Victorian Government announced that single-use plastic straws, cutlery, plates, drink-stirrers, cotton bud sticks and expanded polystyrene food and drink containers will be prohibited from sale or supply in Victoria by February 2023.  It’s likely that a discussion paper will be released soon and be open for public comment. 

What exemptions from the bans are there?

Commonly, the bans include exemptions for the sale and supply of single-use plastics for medical or disability purposes.  In some instances, single-use plastic items that are part of “shelf-ready” items available for immediate consumption are also exempt.  These include single-use plastic spoons provided as part of a ready-to-eat meal, for example.

Lack of a consistent approach

However, the definitions used in the various legislation and policies are not consistent. Nor is there consistency in the single-use plastic items covered by the new laws and policies.  Businesses with national reach need to be aware of these differences.

While the efforts of States and Territories are significant, the lack of a consistent approach means that there will be an increased burden on business needing to comply with differing single-use plastics requirements. 

What is the Australian Government doing to reduce single-use plastics?

In early March this year, the Australian Government released Australia’s National Plastics Plan. One of its goals is to phase out “problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic”.

drinking straws
Paper drinking straws are recyclable

Two of the National Packaging Targets to be achieved by 2025 are:

  • 70% of plastic packaging to be recycled or composted.
  • 50% of average recycled content to be included in packaging (20% for plastic packaging). 

The Australian Government is largely focussed on voluntary measures to achieve its goals.  For example, as part of the National Plastics Plan it intends to invest $7 million to support 10 projects through the National Product Stewardship Investment Fund to establish new plastics product stewardship schemes and expand existing schemes.  However, it is using the threat of legislation and mandatory schemes to encourage industry to meet the national targets.

According to the National Plastics Plan the Australian Government will also “work with industry to fast-track the phase out of polymer types in certain applications, and consider regulatory action should industry phase outs not be achieved”. The planned phase outs are:

  • plastic packaging products with additive fragmentable technology that do not meet relevant compostable standards (AS4736-2006, AS5810-2010 and EN13432) (July 2022).
  • expanded polystyrene (EPS) from loose packaging fill and moulded packaging in consumer packaging (July 2022), and EPS food and beverage containers (December 2022).
  • PVC packaging labels (December 2022).

In terms of mandated approaches, the Australian Government has passed legislation implementing waste export bans in a staged approach.  Relevant to plastics, the waste export bans include:

  • from 1 July 2021: unsorted mixed plastic that are not of a single resin or polymer type or where further sorting, cleaning and/or processing is required before re-use.
  • from 1 July 2022: unprocessed single polymer or resin plastics (for example, cleaned and baled PET bottles).

What is industry doing?

Industry is also responding with voluntary removal of single-use plastics.  A number of companies announced innovative plans to reduce single-use plastics at Australia’s first National Plastics Summit in March 2020.  For example, McDonalds pledged to remove 585 tonnes of plastic cutlery from their Australian stores by the end of the 2020, adding to its previous commitment to remove 500 million plastic straws.  Qantas is phasing out 100 million single-use plastic items, such as cups, cutlery and meal boxes, replacing them with compostable items.  Cleanaway, Pact and Asahi announced details of their plastic pelletising facility in Albury/Wodonga which is expected to process approximately 28,000 tonnes (900 million bottles) every year.

Get in touch now

Get in touch (by phone or email) if you would like further information on Australia’s single-use plastics bans. Click here for information on international developments..


Meredith Gibbs

Meredith Gibbs
Meredith Gibbs is the driving force behind Gibbs Advisory.

She is passionate about providing pragmatic, commercial advice and finding clear pathways through complex situations. Meredith is focused on getting to the heart of the issues and uncovering win-win solutions.

Clients value her ability to understand their needs and her sensible, down-to-earth approach.

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Meredith Gibbs

Gibbs Advisory – Principal

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