Single-use plastics FAQs


Cleaning up our ACT. Single-use plastics ban

Are you an ACT business and need some help on how to comply?

Call the ACT Single-Use Plastics Business Hotline on 1800 844 946 or email your question to singleuseplastics@act.gov.au

About the legislation

What are we banning?

The Plastic Reduction Act 2021 prohibits the supply of certain single-use plastic items and establishes a framework for banning additional items in the future. The first tranche of items includes single-use plastic stirrers, cutlery and expanded polystyrene foam takeaway food and beverage containers, such as cups, plates, bowls and clamshell containers.

From 1 July 2021, supplying or providing any of these prohibited single-use plastic products identified for phase out will be banned.

Why are we banning single-use plastic items?

It is important to keep plastic litter out of our beautiful bush capital landscape and waterways. Single-use plastics often end up in landfill as they cannot be economically recycled. By definition, these items are not designed or intended to be reused.

Conventional plastic items do not naturally break down in the environment, they may persist for hundreds of years or break down into fragments and cause harm to the environment.

When will the ban start?

From 1 July 2021 - single-use plastic cutlery, drink stirrers and expanded polystyrene foam takeaway food and beverage containers will be prohibited from sale, supply or distribution in the ACT. These single-use plastic items can be replaced with suitable alternative items.

From 1 July 2022 - single-use plastic ‘barrier bags’, such as those used for fresh produce, single-use plastic straws, and all products made from degradable plastic, have been identified for phase out with strong community support. Exemptions for straws will be made for those people who need them.

From July 2023 - plastic-lined single-use coffee cups and lids, single-use plastic dinnerware, boutique or heavyweight plastic bags, and cotton ear buds with plastic sticks will be considered.

Which businesses will be affected?

Food service businesses, retailers, wholesalers and distributors, party supplier and discount retailers will be the most affected businesses.

It is important that these types of businesses are aware of the changes, how it will affect them and what support is available to make a successful transition.

What does 'single-use plastic' mean?

A single-use plastic product is a plastic product designed or intended to be used once only. An item is still considered single‑use even if it can be subsequently reused or has multiple uses within its lifetime.

Was the community and industry consulted about the ban?

The ACT Government announced in April 2019 that it would develop legislation to address the impacts of single-use plastic products.

In 2019 the ACT Government released a discussion paper on Phasing out single use plastics and undertook consultation with the community. During the consultation there was strong support for phasing out certain unnecessary and problematic single-use plastics with a transition to readily available alternatives.

The majority of the community supported strong government regulatory action to ban problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics, rather than voluntary phase outs or other non-regulatory responses.

The ACT Government originally intended to begin this legislation in 2020, however this was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now in a position where we can balance public health risks while taking action to reduce plastic waste.

Who does the ban apply to?

The ban applies to any person who, in the course of carrying on a business, sells, supplies or distributes a prohibited plastic product (listed below) to another person in the ACT. This does not include providing a plastic product in a domestic setting.

What items will be banned from 1 July 2021?

The following items will be banned for sale, supply or distribution:

  • Single-use plastic cutlery (including bioplastics)
  • Single-use plastic drink stirrers (including bioplastics)
  • Single-use plastic expanded polystyrene takeaway food and beverage containers. Plastic containers including bioplastics are allowed, only expanded polystyrene versions of these will be banned.

Once the ban is in place these items will need to be replaced with suitable alternatives.

Can I still use the items at home or while I'm out?

Yes, the ban restricts the sale, supply or distribution of identified products, but does not ban their use. While residents won’t be able to buy the products in the ACT, they will be able to use up any items they still have at home.

Isn't it better to use single-use items to help slow the spread of COVID-19?

No. Reusable items such as crockery and cutlery that have been cleaned via normal food safety practices mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread.

More information can be found at covid19.act.gov.au or through the COVID-19 helpline on 02 6207 7244.

Different types of banned plastics

What are conventional plastics?

Conventional plastic products are made from fossil fuels, usually crude oil. Examples of conventional plastics include Polypropylene (PP), Polystyrene (PS) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). These materials can take hundreds of years to break down in the environment.

What is a bioplastic product?

Bioplastics products are made from plant extracts and often look and feel like conventional plastics. Bioplastics includes a plastic type called Polylactic Acid (PLA), which is one of the most common bioplastics, but there are several other types. If you are unsure if a plastic product is a conventional plastic or a bioplastic, the best source of information is to contact the manufacturer.

What's wrong with bioplastics? Aren't they compostable?

Many bioplastics are compostable, but only in industrial composts. They are not suitable for home composts.

Exemptions

Detainee or mental health patient-facing settings

These facilities are exempt from the ban until 1 July 2022, while a trial is underway to identify safe alternatives.

Packaged food that comes with cutlery

Pre-packaged food that comes with cutlery, for example, a spoon attached to a pre-packaged ice cream cup will still be allowed.

Straws (from 1 July 2022)

Single use plastic straws will be banned from July 2022, however they will still be available for those who need them, such as people with a disability or medical need. Details on how these items will be able to be accessed is being determined in consultation with the community.

Alternative products

How can I reduce the cost of alternative products in my business?

Depending on your type of business, you may be able to switch to washable, reusable alternatives and only provide acceptable disposable items if your customers request them.

What alternatives to single-use plastic products are available?

Please visit the alternative items page for examples of alternatives for single-use plastic cutlery, stirrers and expanded polystyrene takeaway food and beverage containers.

What difference will replacing plastic utensils with non-plastic utensils make?

Wood or bamboo products are a better alternative to plastic as they are less harmful to the environment. Look for recycled or sustainably sourced options, such as the Forest Stewardship Council certification for paper, wooden or bamboo cutlery and stirrers. Having said that, the less we use any single-use items the better as this saves resources and keeps waste out of landfill.

What questions should I ask my supplier when ordering alternatives to the prohibited items?

When ordering alternatives for the prohibited products ask your supplier if the items meet the requirements of the ACT’s legislation.

For single-use plastic cutlery and drink stirrers:

  • Does the item contain any plastic or bioplastic?
  • Are there glues or other additives/bonding agents used in the product? These too are made from either conventional plastic or bioplastic and are included in the ban.

If the answer to the above questions is yes, then do not purchase as they are banned items.

When selecting cutlery and drink stirrers, also consider if the item has Forest Stewardship Council certification. This ensures that paper and wood products do not contribute to environmental destruction or habitat loss.

For single-use expanded polystyrene foam takeaway food and beverage containers:

  • Are the items made from expanded polystyrene?

If the answer is yes, then do not purchase as it is a banned item.

When selecting takeaway food containers also consider if the alternative the most sustainable choice. Cardboard or bagasse containers are the preferred alternatives to expanded polystyrene takeaway food and beverage containers, although other conventional plastics are also not prohibited.

Why are bioplastic products NOT acceptable alternatives for cutlery and stirrers?

The ACT legislation prohibits the sale, supply and distribution of both conventional plastic and bioplastics for drink stirrers and cutlery. This means that bioplastic products are not suitable alternatives to single-use plastic cutlery and drink stirrers.

Bioplastic and compostable plastic products can only be broken down in industrial composting facilities. When not composted they cause litter, pollution, and harm to wildlife, in the same way as conventional, fossil fuel plastic products.

However, under the ACT legislation bioplastic can still be used as an alternative to expanded polystyrene products.

  • When ordering alternatives to single-use plastic cutlery and drink stirrers, check with your supplier that the items are not made from, or include, bioplastics.
  • Avoid prohibited items made from compostable plastic (bioplastic) such as Polylactic Acid (PLA).
  • Cardboard or bagasse containers are the preferred alternatives to expanded polystyrene takeaway food and beverage containers, although other conventional plastics are also not prohibited.

It is an offence to falsely claim that a product containing plastic is not prohibited.

Where do I get information on suppliers of alternative products?

Talk to your current supplier as they may already have alternative products for sale.

Contact the ACT Single Use Plastics Business Hotline on 1800 844 946. The hotline provides support and advice for businesses on how to transition to the single-use plastic changes. Alternatively, email your question to singleuseplastics@act.gov.au.

Business and industry support

Have impacts to business been considered?

The ACT Government established a stakeholder taskforce to help with the development of the legislation. It was established in early 2020 and will continue to provide support to government as the ban comes into effect. The taskforce comprises representatives of business, industry, local government and industry groups. The members of the ACT Government’s single-use plastic taskforce include:

  • Australian Food and Grocery Council
  • Australian Hotels Association (ACT)
  • Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation
  • National Retail Association
  • Australian Retail Association
  • Conservation Council ACT
  • Environment Protection Authority
  • Advocacy for Inclusion
  • ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service
  • CSIRO
  • Canberra Business Chamber
  • Restaurant and Catering Industry Association
  • Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association (WMRR)
  • Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate
  • ACT Health Directorate, Health Protection Service
  • Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate, Access Canberra

A summary of submissions received on the draft Bill and the government’s response is also available on the YourSay website.

How can we help our staff explain the legislation to customers?
  • Refer customers to the single-use plastics page.
  • Call the ACT Single Use Plastics Business Hotline for support and advice on 1800 844 946

Compliance and enforcement

How can I report a business suspected of non-compliance?

Enquiries and reports can be made by contacting Access Canberra on 13 22 81.

How will the legislation be enforced?

The ACT Government will take an educative approach over compliance in the first instance, supporting business and the community to transition to the new requirements.

What happens if a manufacturer sells me a prohibited item without my knowledge?

It is an offence for a manufacturer or supplier to knowingly mislead a business into believing that a product is not a prohibited product. If the business can prove that it believed on reasonable grounds that the product was not a prohibited single-use plastic product, it will not be held liable.

What if I'm unsure my product is prohibited?

Check the descriptions of prohibited plastic products. The best way to establish what an item is made from is to check with your supplier. Questions to ask your supplier are detailed above at What questions should I ask my supplier when ordering alternatives to the prohibited items?

If you are still in doubt, contact the ACT Single-Use Plastics Business Hotline on 1800 844 946. The hotline provides support and advice for businesses on how to transition from single-use plastic, including help with selecting alternative items.

What penalties apply for a business that sells, supplies or distributes banned items?

A maximum penalty of up to $8,000 for an individual and $40,500 for a business may apply to those who sell, supply or distribute single-use plastic cutlery, stirrers or expanded polystyrene takeaway food and beverage containers, or falsely represent a prohibited product from 1 July 2021.

Compliance and enforcement of the legislation will be undertaken by Access Canberra and the Health Protection Service Environmental Health Food team.

The ACT Government will focus on support and education for businesses over compliance in the first instance, to ease the transition to the new requirements.

Excess stock

For business - can I continue to use stock I purchased before 1 July 2021?

Businesses cannot supply banned items to customers after 1 July 2021.

Businesses should prepare their inventories in an appropriate manner in preparation for the changes.

At home - can I use up any items I have at home?

The ban restricts sale, supply or distribution of the identified items. While you won’t be able to buy them in the ACT, they can still be used for personal use if you have them at home.

What can I do with excess stock?

You can continue to use up stock until the end of June 2021. If you still have non-compliant stock at 1 July 2021, contact your supplier for return options as these products may still be used interstate.

Recycling and disposal

What are the recycling options for single-use plastics?

Single-use plastic and other plastic products prohibited under the legislation are often used away from home and thrown away after a single‑use. These items (cutlery and drink stirrers) often cannot be recycled through conventional systems and end up in landfill or as litter.

Advice on what can and cannot be placed in kerbside recycling bins is available on the Recyclopaedia or call Access Canberra on 13 22 81.

Find out more about single-use plastics