As a trailblazer in the fight against plastic waste, Australia has announced that single-use plastics are to be completely phased out in the country from 2025. The phase-out covers eight types of ‘problematic and unnecessary’ plastic items commonly used once and thrown away, including lightweight plastic bags, plastic utensils and stirrers, plastic straws, polystyrene food containers, polystyrene packaging and microbeads in personal care products.

The news comes after the Australian government had previously announced plans for this ban, which included banning the use of expanded polystyrene food containers by December 2022. More recently, federal, state and territory leaders have agreed on what that term will cover. This is a national announcement which follows the historic news in September 2020 that South Australia was to became the first state in the country to ban single-use plastics. From February 2021, South Australia has prohibited sale, supply and distribution of single-use drinking straws, stirrers and cutlery across the state.

Australia as a country produces 2.5m tonnes of plastic waste each year, with an estimated 84% being sent to landfill sites. It is predicted that roughly 130,000 tonnes of plastic waste leaks into the environment annually. 

Met widely as a positive move, the Australian ban on plastic waste does have its critics. Conservationists have warned that the target will not be met unless tough regulation supports the voluntary industry targets. “This is welcome progress on these killer plastics and will help to ease the pressure on our marine wildlife,” said Darren Kindleysides from the Australian Marine Conservation Society, “but we would urge our governments to take the further step of implementing national mandatory bans to ensure the good progress in some jurisdictions continues.”

Ministers are yet to respond officially however they have stressed the ‘vital role’ that cooperation will play in building a more climate-resilient Australia. Furthermore, the federal government has promised to engage with state and territory governments in the lead-up to the COP26 Glasgow climate change conference taking place later this year. The COP26 summit aims to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. World leaders will come together in November of this year to discuss targets and actions.

It is widely recognised that tougher action needs to be taken and that the role of those in power to enforce change is vital. Globally it’s estimated that 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, which is the equivalent weight of the human population. Half of this is for single-use plastic and approximately only 9% of this 300 million tonnes figure is recycled, the rest ending up in landfills or the environment.  Furthermore, it is estimated that globally over eight million tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans each year, causing devastation to sea life and the environment. 

In 2019, 170 countries pledged to ‘significantly reduce’ use of plastic by 2030 at the UN Environment Assembly. During the assembly, a non-binding resolution was made over single-use or throwaway items such as plastic bags. Action is being taken by many local authorities and it is hoped that more countries will follow the lead of Australia and take it even further by introducing legal legislation to limit the production and use of plastic and find more sustainable alternatives for the good of the planet.

Source: Calla Wahlquist, The Guardian