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NSW retailers using single-use plastic bags to face up to $275,000 in fines from next week

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Retailers doling out single-use plastic bags in New South Wales face fines of up to $275,000 from Wednesday, June 1 as a statewide ban comes into force.

NSW Environment Minister James Griffin said the reason for the single-use plastic bag ban was simple: “It will stop plastic getting into our environment at the source.”

“Single-use plastic is used by many of us for just a few convenient minutes, but it remains in our environment for many years, eventually breaking into microplastics,” Griffin continued.

“This single step will remove 2.7 billion items of plastic waste from our environment over the next 20 years.”

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And the ban is enforceable with hefty fines — up to $11,000 for a sole trader who breaks the rules, or a maximum of $275,000 for a corporation failing to comply with a stop notice.

About 60% of all litter in NSW is plastic packaging and other single-use plastic items, while the state government says just 10% of all plastics are recycled.

The plastic bag ban is part of a larger push to reduce single-use plastics. In November, plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery, plates and cotton buds, as well as polystyrene plates and cups, will also be banned across NSW.

Interestingly, rinse-off personal care products containing plastic microbeads will also be banned, as will any “compostable” plastic or “bioplastic alternatives”.

That’s because they don’t biodegrade unless they’re treated in an industrial composting facility, creating just as much of a problem as conventional plastic, the government says.

And several major grocers are already taking action, phasing out of the sale of plastic items like picnic cutlery and replacing them with compostable alternatives.

It comes after the NSW government passed the Plastic Reduction and Circular Economy Act 2021 in November, and introduced the Plastics Action Plan launch last year.

But NSW is hardly the first state to take a stand on single-use plastic. South Australia was the first to introduce such a plastic bag ban in 2009, and since then all other Australian states and territories have rolled out bans on lightweight plastic bags.

It’s not been easy, however, with the National Retail Association saying its team is visiting “hundreds” of retailers in stories across four states to provide businesses with the assistance they need to transition away from plastic.

“We understand that while retailers are highly supportive of phasing out single-use plastics, businesses face significant challenges understanding different rules in each jurisdiction, as well as experiencing ongoing supply chain and pandemic-related pressures,” it said in a statement.

Minister for Small Business Eleni Petinos says  government is supporting more than 40,000 businesses across NSW to phase-out single-use plastics.

“The NSW government has worked with stakeholders to support small businesses to understand how they will be affected, how to comply with new laws and what alternatives they can use to single-use plastics,” Petinos said.

“Through the NRA, we’re running a retailer education campaign, conducting store visits, and providing online webinars and resources to help businesses make the adjustment away from single-use plastics.”

Retailers and organisations seeking advice can call the NRA’s free hotline on 1800 844 946 for advice on the single-use plastic bans.

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