Australia's Single-Use Plastic Problem - What Are We Doing About It?

Australia's Single-Use Plastic Problem - What Are We Doing About It?

Do you give a second thought to the plastic fork or coffee stirrer you toss away? Maybe not, but you’ve actually just contributed to one of the biggest environmental problems around the globe - single-use plastic pollution

Half of all plastics produced globally are designed to be used just once and then thrown out. It’s a disaster for our oceans - they’re being choked with plastic that was used just momentarily. 

Every year, around 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean - it's been described as the equivalent to dumping the contents of a garbage truck each minute. 

Once plastic forks, stirrers, cups, etc find their way into the ocean, they don’t just ‘go away’. 

Their impact on our delicate marine environments, from tiny corals to magnificent whales, can be felt for centuries. You only need to google ‘The Great Pacific garbage patch,’ to see the devastating reality of what plastic and other waste is doing to our oceans. 

Around the world, it’s estimated plastic kills more than 1 million marine animals each year including mammals, fish, sharks, turtles, and seabirds.

When marine animals mistake bits of plastic and ballooned with water for food, they fill their stomachs with plastic debris. The tragedy is they can actually die of starvation because there's no room left for real food. They can also become fatally entangled in plastic objects.  

Every piece of plastic debris floating in the ocean is a potentially deadly hazard for marine wildlife. 

What is Australia doing to reduce single-use plastic? 

As the largest island in the world, Australia should be leading the charge in protecting our oceans from plastic pollution, but we’re actually lagging behind

Quick facts about Australia’s plastic problem -

  • Australia produces a staggering 3 million tonnes of plastic per annum
  • Less than 12% of plastic produced is recycled
  • Every 30 seconds in Australia 50,000 disposable coffee cups become landfill (Planet Ark)
  • The average Australian uses about 130 kg of plastic each year. Yes, you read that right - 130 kgs per person. 
  • Up to 130,000 tonnes of plastic will find its way into Australian waterways and the ocean every year (WWF)

With the exception of New South Wales, all Australian states have banned lightweight plastic bags but a nationwide ban doesn’t exist for other single-use plastic. 

Some states are taking the war on plastic further committing to tackle the problem by introducing bans on plastic items beyond bags in 2020. 


In December 2019, the ACT government broke new ground with legislation to introduce a ban on single-use plastic, including a nation-first ban on plastic fruit and vegetable bags.

Under the Plastic Reduction Bill 2020 which is expected to be introduced in the first quarter of this year, plastic bags, bottles, straws, disposable coffee cups and lids, cutlery, plates and takeaway containers will all be banned. 

The initial stages will include the immediate phasing out of three key plastic items including, plastic cutlery, plastic stirrers, and polystyrene takeaway food and beverage containers.

In the following phases, supermarkets and grocers will have to put in place alternatives to fruit and vegetable barrier bags which will also be banned. 

South Australia

South Australia’s The Single-use and Other Plastic Products (Waste Avoidance) Bill 2019 will also introduce a state-wide ban on plastic straws, cutlery, and drink stirrers in 2020. 

Bans on takeaway polystyrene containers and cups, coffee cups and the tightening of regulations around reusable plastic bags are also being considered by the South Australian government.

Scarily, plastic use is predicted to double in the next two decades! Australia's first plastics summit is planned for 2020 in an attempt to figure out what can be done to tackle the crisis. 

Attendees of the summit, including leading retailers, industry representatives, state and local government and school kids will be invited to showcase potential solutions for phasing out problematic plastics over the next five years (2025).

Show your support!

There are ways you can show your support for organisations tackling the plastic problem in Australia. 

The Australia Marine Conservation Society is one of the leading voices calling for a ban single-use plastic across Australia. By adding your name to the Australian Marine Conservation Society petition to support a ban on single-use plastics in Australia. 

WWF is also encouraging the Australian government to beat plastic pollution by phasing out the 10 worst single-use plastics. 

The top offenders are plastic straws, plastic drink stirrers, balloon sticks, plastic cotton buds, coffee cups and lids, plastic cutlery, plastic cups, plastic containers, and plastic plates. You can add your name to the WWF petition here. 

Check out our 7 simple tips for reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in Australian oceans. 


UN Environment

The Lifecycle Of Plastic - WWF

Ban The Bag - Spark

‘Leading the country’: South Australia to ban plastic cutlery, straws and stirrers

National Plastics Summit To Tackle Australia’s Growing Rubbish Problem

National Plastics Summit

Your Say: Single-Use Plastics

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