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Plastic straws banned from next week, but no fines issued for plastic bags

A ban on plastic straws and cups that begins next week will be useless unless it is actively policed, environment groups say, after a similar move on single-use plastic bags has failed to result in one fine or prosecution.

All single-use plastic straws, plates, cutlery, polystyrene food and drink containers, drink stirrers and cotton buds will be banned from sale and supply in Victoria from February 1, under the Andrews government’s attempt to divert 80 per cent of waste from landfill by 2030.

All single-use plastic straws, plates, cutlery, polystyrene food and drink containers, drink stirrers and cotton buds will be banned from sale and supply in Victoria from February 1.Credit:AP

The ban, which was first announced in 2021, will be enforced by the state’s Environment Protection Authority.

Businesses caught using those items can be fined $1849 and individuals face a fine of $370 however the government says only those who repeatedly flout the rules will be penalised.

The maximum penalty a business could face is $54,000, but that would be issued only in rare circumstances, such as if a business knowingly sold single-use plastics but passed them off as reusable items.

Single-use plastic bags were banned in Victoria in 2019, but the EPA confirmed on Friday that no businesses or individuals have been fined for flouting the law.

“Mindful of the effect of the pandemic on businesses, EPA has made use of advice and warning letters rather than issuing fines as a first resort,” a spokesman said.

Some businesses have found loopholes in the existing ban on single-use plastic bags.Credit:Jason South

But Jeff Angel, director of the Boomerang Alliance, said the EPA needed to take a more hardline approach because too many businesses were finding loopholes in the ban.

“In general, there has been a clear reduction in the use of single lightweight plastic bags,” Angel said.

“The problem that emerged is that slightly thicker bags that evade the legal definition of lightweight [thinner than 35 microns] are still available, often with the claim to be reusable.

“This is greenwash.”

Angel said the new laws better define the requirements around reusable cups and cutlery [they will be required to last at least one year] but stressed the government would need to crack down on “greenwashing”, particularly on items that businesses falsely claim to be reusable, biodegradable or compostable.

Kirsty Bishop-Fox, president of Zero Waste Victoria, echoed the same concerns, noting that she had visited several establishments that offered compostable items but did not actually compost them.

“They’ve got compostable things because they’re required to, but they’re not composted and they’re going to end up in landfill,” she said.

The ban comes into effect after the collapse of the soft plastic recycling program REDcycle, which led to millions of plastic bags being stored in warehouses instead of recycled.

Environment Minister Ingrid Stitt would not commit to outlawing single-use packaging such as plastic wraps on fresh fruit and vegetables on Friday but said the government was exploring how to reduce the number of polystyrene and agricultural plastics used in the construction industry.

An estimated 2.7 million disposable or single-use coffee cups are thrown away every day in Australia, according to Sustainability Victoria, but they are not included in the ban and neither are standard plastic takeaway containers.

Stitt said they would not be banned unless appropriate alternatives became available.

“Nothing infuriates me more when I’m shopping than seeing my fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic that doesn’t need to be there,” she said.

“We will be looking at the future of packaging generally, but it’s important that those conversations happen in a harmonised way across the country and across all jurisdictions because that way we’ll be able to drive the change in a much more efficient way.”

Single-use plastic bans are often associated with negative change, Bishop-Fox said, such as paying extra for a grocery bag at check-outs. This de-motivates people to change their ways, she said.

“We’ve got to make the convenience of a single-use plastic bag or container inconvenient,” she said. “I think [the government] is going to have to give businesses and the public more incentive if they’re asking them to change their behaviour … There needs to be a cultural shift.”

with AAP

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