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Banning Single Use Plastic - What A Difference Two Years Has Made

Posted by Jonathan Hart on

Today we stand on the cusp of a new era for Australia.

Yesterday it was publicly announced that a Senate inquiry into Australia’s recycling crisis has recommended that all single-use plastics – which could potentially include takeaway containers, disposable cutlery, chip packets and coffee cups with plastic linings – be banned by 2023.

The wide-ranging report also recommends the establishment of a national container deposit scheme as a response to an unfolding crisis in Australian recycling that forced some councils to tip their recycling into landfill.

The report sets out a blueprint to create a “circular economy” – where all materials used in Australia are then recovered and reused domestically.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who chaired the inquiry, said it was “a rare display of political consensus” across Labor, Liberal and the Greens.

While the report did not define what single-use plastics could be banned, senator Whish-Wilson said it could include takeaway containers, chip packets, plastic bags and coffee cups with plastic linings.

Australian recycling is in crisis after China announced it would no longer buy the majority of our recyclable material, starting from this year.

Previously, up to 50% of all Australian recycling was being sold to China, because the lack of a domestic market for recyclables could not meet the volume of recycling we were creating.

But on 1 January, new conditions meant China would no longer buy 99% of the 1.27 million tonnes that Australia had previously exported there.

The unsold recycling began piling up in collection centres, or being dumped in landfill. States have stepped in with emergency funding to ensure collection companies continued to pick up recycling, but only on six or 12 month contracts.

This announcement is also the culmination of a few years campaigning by Eco Party Box. Earlier this year we created a change.org campaign to ban single-use disposable plastic tableware from parties in SA. See that campaign here.

And in late 2016 we wrote to the SA Minister for the Environment, Minister Hunter, with a letter to do the same.

It follows:

Good morning Minister Hunter,

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 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 popularlargely 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 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 products, many of which have already introduced a biodegradable alternative to their plastic products due to the market place switching 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.

Thank you for taking the time to read this email.

Warm regards,

Jonathan and Tina Hart 

Our response was heard and 10 days later we received this reply:

Dear Mr and Ms Hart

Thank you for your email of 2 December 2016, suggesting that plastic party supplies such as plates, cups and cutlery be banned in South Australia.

South Australia has a strong history of addressing single use items that are harmful to the environment or end up in landfill. South Australia was the first state to introduce container deposit legislation (the 10 cent deposit on drink containers), and ban single use plastic bags, with both of these measures now being implemented by other States and Territories around Australia.

Single use plastic party supplies are certainly wasteful. However, I am advised that banning such products is unlikely to lead to the level of reduction in waste disposed to landfill that you are suggesting.

While there is the possibility of legislating against single-use plastic party and takeaway supplies, the industry has already shown that it is capable of providing compostable alternatives such as the range of products supplied by your business. The challenges are ensuring that these products are more readily available in the market place to provide consumers with a wider range of 'green' purchase choices and the availability of organics disposal options where these products are used including workplaces, events, and public areas. Without an accessible organics disposal point for these products, many of them will still end up in landfill.

The Government of South Australia and Adelaide City Council (ACC) are working together to make Adelaide the world's first carbon neutral city. The Carbon Neutral Adelaide Action Plan 2016-2021 (the Plan) outlines the pathways that we will take to build on our achievements and reduce Adelaide's carbon emissions.

In particular, Pathway 4 - Reduce emissions from waste and water - of the Plan states that “...public events are a prominent showcase of the city's progress towards minimising waste and maximising recycling. Enhancements to waste and recycling services at large events (e.g. Womad, Fringe, Clipsal etc.) will be an important opportunity for leadership and community participation”.

In addition, implementing a precinct level trial of reusable and compostable takeaway food and beverage containers by businesses and catering companies is an action identified in the Plan at Action 4.1.6. There may be an opportunity for Eco Party Box to supply compostable products to large community events with ACC and I encourage you to explore this further.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me and I trust that this information is of assistance.

Yours sincerely

IAN HUNTER MLC Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation

The excuse by the Minister at that time largely being: "without an accessible organics disposal point for these products, many of them will still end up in landfill". But in fact South Australian commercial composters and the overwhelming majority of all councils allow these compostable tableware products in their green waste bins and have done since at least 2011.

So while it's not awesome that a potential national disaster has forced Government to act on this, instead of sticking their head in the sand, it proves to us that a stampede of environment lovers with a cause is far more powerful than a lone voice in the wilderness.

The flood of recent social media posts chastising single use straws, coffee cups with plastic lining, single-use plastic bags and even balloons has made the difference to potentially ban disposable single-use plastic in Australia. No doubt this has been championed by the ABC TV's War On Waste and Sir David Attenborough's documentary Blue Planet 2 but it could not have been done without the wave of public interest in it also.

Australia has finally caught up to speed with the environmental movement - and hopefully it is within the nick of time too! The theory that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050 will hopefully be something we tell our grandchildren about as something we managed to avoid as a collective species.

Oh yeah, and great timing for the start of plastic-free July!