New ACT Act to Ban Single-Use Plastic Products 

Tuesday 27 April 2021 @ 11.06 a.m. | Legal Research | Trade & Commerce

On 8 April 2021, the ACT’s Plastic Reduction Act 2021 (‘the Act’) was notified. The original Bill (Plastic Reduction Bill 2020 – ‘the Bill’) was introduced in the Legislative Assembly on 2 December 2020 by Chris Steel, the Minister for Transport and City Services (‘the Minister’). The Act will commence on 1 July 2021.

The Act was developed in response to the ACT government’s goal of phasing out single-use plastic. The Act “prohibits the supply of identified single-use plastic items and establishes a framework for phasing out other products in the future, replacing the existing Plastic Shopping Bags Ban Act 2010”.  

The explanatory memorandum of the Bill highlights the need to take action on the “unprecedented” levels of plastic present in the environment, noting that “plastic persists in the environment and can last for hundreds or even thousands of years”.

Background of the Act: Community Contribution 

In 2019, the community, industries and businesses of Canberra were invited to “have their say” on phasing out single-use plastic. The “Phasing out single-use plastics discussion paper” gained significant attention, with approximately 3,300 interactions according to the Bill’s explanatory memorandum. In his second reading speech, the Minister acknowledged that the Canberra community “wants [the government] to act on phasing out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic, and regulatory action is the most effective approach”.

The Minister said that a voluntary approach is not sufficient, and that similarly to schemes in place in other Australian and international jurisdictions, an enforceable regulatory scheme is necessary. He continued to say that without such action, “consumption of these products will remain at current levels and these products will remain in the litter stream”.

The Plastic Reduction Taskforce was consulted during the Bill-making process, through which various voices were able to be represented, such as the voices of “local and national industry, business, environment and disability advocacy bodies”.  

The Prohibition Process Provided for by the Act

When the Act commences on 1 July 2021, supplying single-use plastic items from the first “tranche” in the Act will be prohibited, including items such as “single-use plastic stirrers, cutlery and expanded polystyrene foam takeaway food and beverage containers, such as cups, plates, bowls and clamshell containers”.

The Act provides that one year following the ban of the first tranche, the second tranche will be banned. This includes “single-use plastic ‘barrier bags’, such as those used for fruit and vegetables in supermarkets, as well as single-use plastic straws, and all products made from oxo-degradable plastic”. In relation to this, the Minister said that consultations will be taking place to ensure that people with certain disabilities who need straws will be able to access them. For this reason, the Act does not yet “expressly” prohibit these items – they will be prohibited by a regulation to be made once the details of the prohibition are confirmed.

New Powers for the Responsible Minister 

The Act gives the Minister power to “prohibit single-use plastic products by regulation”, and also to make exemptions. When making an exemption, the Minister must consider:

  • the practicality of the exemption;
  • whether it is in the public interest;
  • any human rights issues; and
  • “whether compliance will have significant adverse effects on public health, property or the environment”.

Through the Act, the Minister may also declare certain government and non-government events to be “single-use plastic free”. In his second reading speech, the Minister suggested that “Floriade, major festivals, and sporting fixtures” could be declared single-use plastic free.

The Minister explained that the Act establishes a “comprehensive compliance regime”. The supply of prohibited plastic products, and supply of such products at declared public events will constitute offences under the new Act, and infringement notices may be given. The Minister said that this compliance regime is necessary to “make sure that there is a level playing field for all businesses who are doing the right thing”.

Ultimately, according to the Minister, the goal of the Act is to “address the growing volume of single-use plastic items that cannot be avoided, re-used or recycled”, and to “[send] a strong signal to the community” about the ACT’s stance on plastic consumption and use.

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Plastic Reduction Act 2021 (ACT), Bill, second reading speech and explanatory memoranda available from TimeBase's LawOne service. 

Discussion paper: Phasing out single-use plastics: (ACT Government: City Services, Transport Canberra and City Services Directorate, April 2019)

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