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France has banned plastic tableware ... why can't Australia?

Posted by Jonathan Hart on

This year France announced it would ban the sale of plastic cups, cutlery and plates, forcing manufacturers to create this tableware to be made from biodegradable material. This ban is due to be enforced in 2020.

We got to thinking that if it can happen in France why not Australia too.

France bans plastic tableware

So we sat down and wrote a letter to our Greens MLC in SA Mark Parnell. Here it is:

Good morning Mark and Emily,

Thanks for taking my call this morning.

For the past 6 years South Australian business Eco Party Box has been helping Australians party sustainably by offering compostable tableware and eco party decorations and party bag fillers online.

We started the business because we were disappointed with the amount of party supplies which ended up in landfill and had discovered there were eco alternatives.

Run by Jonathan and Tina Hart, our mission is to help people celebrate their parties sustainably by using compostable tableware that would be composted either by home compost or a composting facility.

We recently learned that the French Government had passed a law to ban all plastic plates, cups and cutlery by 2020, forcing manufacturers to create only biodegradable products and consumers to purchase only these alternatives.

It is our goal to see the same laws passed in South Australia.

It is estimated that by the year 2050 there will be more pieces of plastic in our ocean than there will be fish. Clearly something must be done.

While some Australian states have introduced a ban on plastic bags (and we would love to see a ban on plastic bags Australia wide) we feel the next step is plastic party products.

There exists a huge amount of disposable plastic party supplies that go only to landfill, when in fact party supplies are now made out of compostable material and could instead go to composting facilities (or at least break down eventually in landfill, unlike plastic products).

Unlike non-biodegradable food and beverage packaging, party supplies carry no perishable items and remain popular largely because they are they are the easier option, that being they are easy to find in supermarkets and thrift shops.

Compostable party products, along with access to more composting facilities, will see an enormous shift in reduction of landfill waste.

We are hoping you may hear our concerns so that this issue may be introduced as a private member's bill to the South Australian parliament and hopefully successfully passed into law.

Manufacturing of non-biodegradable plates, cups and cutlery is mainly done in China so it will not affect the manufacturing industry in Australia only those businesses who wholesale and distribute the plastic party products, many of which have already introduced a biodegradable alternative to their plastic products due to the market place now warming to the eco alternatives.

We trust this email gives you a clear look into our suggestion of having plastic plates, cups and cutlery banned in South Australia in order to create a cleaner future for all South Australians.

Please let us know if there is any lengths we will need to take, for example creating a petition, to get our campaign into action.

Thank you for taking the time to read this email.

Warm regards,

Jonathan and Tina Hart

Here was his response:

Dear Tina,

Thank you for your email.

I have looked at your website, and it looks like a great business that will cater to people who are environmentally aware.

In situations like this, there is always a tension between changing behaviour through education and awareness on the one hand and legislation on the other.

I think the plastic bags were a special case in terms of sheer volume, but I appreciate that catering and party waste is also a problem.

My gut feeling is that this isn’t a matter for legislation. There would be serious definitional issues and numerous exemptions that could make it difficult to apply and police. That’s leaving aside the fact that it would have zero chance of passing Parliament.

As a regular at various festivals, my view is that things are changing – at least in mass catering situations. I recall that even 10 years ago, all hot beverages at the National Folk Festival were served in washable mugs that were collected from special crates around the site. Most festivals now have environmental policies in relation to crockery and cutlery. Even airlines are slowly changing the packaging for their inflight catering to include more cardboard and less plastic.

A accept that the domestic market is still the hardest nut to crack. I like the idea of compostable products, however I reckon most will still end up in landfill, particularly those used away from home. I accept that compostable products in landfill is still far preferable to plastic. With most landfill now capturing gas as well, there are still significant advantages.

I realise that progress is slow, however I reckon that public awareness and consumer demand will ultimately drive the change that is needed rather than legislation.

I hope your business is successful and thanks for taking the trouble to write to me.

Kind regards,

Mark Parnell

Mark Parnell MLC

We are somewhat disappointed with Mark's response. Sure most biodegradable tableware still goes to landfill but it is better than the plastic type (though reusable is the best option). We are even more disappointed with Ian Hunter, SA Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation who failed to reply to our email.

Sometimes people need a push in the right direction and appropriate laws can help with that.

We will continue our push for a banning of these products in Australia with a soon-to-be-created petition on change.org.

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