State Government legislation came into effect on 1 March 2021 banning the sale, supply and distribution of plastic cutlery, straws and stirrers.
Furthermore, from 1 March 2022, expanded polystyrene cups, bowls, plates and clamshell containers will be banned, and oxo-degradable plastic products (which break down into microplastics) will also be prohibited from sale, supply, distribution, manufacture and production in South Australia.
For a state that has led the way nationally with container deposit legislation since the 1970s, these recent changes accelerate South Australia’s trajectory and could be the tip of the iceberg of what we may need to do over coming decades.
With the combined weight of plastics within our oceans and waterways projected to exceed that of global fish stocks by 2050, the urgency for consumers and businesses to find alternate solutions to the plastic problem is very real.
Consumers can choose cans or glass bottles when purchasing drinks as they have a far higher recycling value than plastic. In Australia, for the most part, we have high-quality drinking water, and many consumers are now choosing reusable/refillable water bottles over purchasing water in single-use plastic bottles.
As one of the world’s leading contributors to the production of plastic bottles, Coca-Cola acknowledges its role in the global packaging problem and its shared responsibility to find a solution.
In 2018, Coca-Cola announced an industry-first goal: to collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one it sells by 2030. Its ‘World Without Waste’ program focuses on the entire packaging lifecycle – not only looking at how products are designed and made, but also how they can be recycled or repurposed after use.
Australian businesses are also lifting their game in the commitment to reducing plastics.
In late 2019, Australia’s largest private hospital operator, Ramsay Health Care, committed to a global sustainability policy that will see its 73 Australian institutions ban the use of single-use plastics, where safe to do so.
Ramsay Health Care will now eliminate the use of more than 24 million plastic items each year – primarily through reducing the use of plastic cups.
Having sought alternate sustainable products, 95 per cent of plastic medication cups are being replaced with cups made from 100 per cent wood pulp, which are both biodegradable and compostable.
Locally, Business SA member Detmold Group is playing its part.
As one of the first signatories to the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (a sustainable packaging initiative that encourages businesses to reduce the environmental impacts of consumer packaging), they are a leading manufacturer of paper and board based sustainable packaging products and offer more than 1,000 packaging alternatives to single-use plastic.
Another Business SA Member, BioBag, offers a range of alternatives to regular plastic bags. Certified compostable and biodegradable, Biobags can be consumed by soil micro-organisms, so are readily composted along with organic waste in municipal composting facilities.
Through corporate environmental, social and governance policies, as well as the introduction of sustainability-minded legislation, manufacturers are increasingly urged to reimagine their production lines to phase out the creation of products that have a negative impact on the environment. The pay-off for the business community is relatively straightforward as consumers are demanding it.
Business SA recently called on the State Government to introduce a $50m Circular Economy Procurement Fund to drive the development of markets for high value-added recycled products in South Australia.
The State Government spends approximately $11b annually on the procurement of goods and services, or around 10 per cent of Gross State Product, and in the years leading up to COVID-19 averaged approximately $2b more on capital expenditure, which has since doubled to $4b.
The opportunity for the government to lead on its own sustainable procurement agenda cannot be overstated.
A circular economy works when we design out waste and pollution, use less natural and raw materials, and keep products in use longer.
While introducing incentives to recycle products or banning products that harm the environment are more direct and practical measures to counter the need to reduce landfill, these solutions alone will not solve the complex challenge of engendering a more circular economy.
Lasting progress on this issue is only coming through businesses manufacturing new products that either make use of existing materials or are designed to avoid resource use.
Business SA recognises that for many businesses the impact of banning single-use plastics may prove complex and require significant restructure of their product design, manufacture and services. However, the overarching benefits for our economy and for the natural environment, far outweigh the initial impost.
There are a multitude of resources available to help businesses make early, and often simple, changes to move away from using what can become waste materials, including some types of plastic.
Business SA encourages all business owners to be mindful of the new and upcoming changes to legislation to phase out single-use plastics and encourages the State Government to continue to support businesses through this fundamental change, now and into the future.
For more news and opinion subscribe to our Business Insight newsletter on Monday mornings.