Single-use plastics banned but compostable products no longer an alternative for businesses

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Single-use plastic items, including straws and some take-out packaging, are banned in NSW from today, forcing businesses to switch to more environmentally friendly products made in from materials such as bamboo and paper.

But new EPA regulations mean that these “eco” alternatives currently cannot be composted and will end up in landfills like their plastic counterparts.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) recently clarified its guidelines for what is allowed in green compost bins, banning items such as cardboard and certified compostable packaging after research found some products contained chemicals such as PFAS, which can be harmful to human and animal health.

Over 40 councils in NSW currently operate compostable food and organic waste (FOGO) schemes and all councils in the state will be required to adopt FOGO schemes by 2030.

But for NSW Far South Coast cafe owner Peter Haggar, restricting items such as cardboard and compostable packaging from FOGO bins will make the transition to single-use plastics problematic.

“They kind of closed a door on an exit, or a way out, of single-use plastics,” he said.

“They’re going to have to do something because single-use plastics aren’t just [used] in hospitality. They are also very active in medicine. »

A ban on items such as single-use plastic straws came into effect on November 1.(ABC News: Meagan Dillon)

What is now prohibited?

Single-use plastic items such as straws, cutlery, stirrers, plates and bowls without splash guards and styrofoam containers are now all banned.

The bans come after the ban on single-use plastic bags in June.

The NSW EPA will enforce the plastic bans, with fines of up to $55,000 for businesses and $11,000 for individuals if caught providing or using the items.

These penalties will be doubled for a manufacturer, distributor or wholesaler.

Compostable plastic items, called bioplastics, have also been banned.

A close up of a specimen jar with sand and colored plastic specs, with a calm blue ocean in the background
Compostable bioplastics can break down into harmful microplastics.(Provided: University of Newcastle: Maddison Carbery)

Ravi Naidu from Newcastle University said even certified compostable bioplastics can be harmful to the environment.

“There has been work done that shows that bioplastics can break down into micro or nano plastics,” he said, adding that research is ongoing to create bioplastics that do not break down into toxic materials,” he said. said Professor Naidu.

“The work that has been done so far is good, but we need to do more.

“Nothing will be delivered until there is serious investment.”

Bins for landfill, compost and recycling with sample images displayed on the bin
Compostable packaging that was previously allowed in FOGO is no longer allowed.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Proust)

Work in progress to improve compostable products

An EPA spokesperson said work was underway by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organization to improve the safety of compostable products.

“As new evidence demonstrates significant gains, the EPA may reconsider its position,” they said.

“All Australian governments have agreed that any further release of PFAS into the environment from continued use should be prevented where possible.”

A FOGO truck unloading organic waste into a composting facility
The councils manage all waste, including organics for compost, across NSW.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Proust)

Mr Haggar said there was an urgent need for solutions to the disposable waste problem to be found quickly.

“We have to find a way to compost everything,” he said.

“Many companies like mine will continue to use compostable packaging and push governments to put in place standards to make this packaging compostable without PFAS.”

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Rozella J. Cook