Businesses fear products destined for landfill as WA’s single-use plastics ban comes into effect

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Ajay Malhotra’s party store in south Perth sells more than 7,000 products, but many could end up in landfill as the first phase of a ban on single-use plastics in Western Australia comes into force today.

While the store had already started phasing out most of its single-use plastics some time ago in favor of biodegradable natural products made from sugar cane and palm fronds, Mr Malhotra said he was almost unable to find substitutes for some items.

“We’ve reduced products that don’t meet ban requirements and sold some at a loss, but that’s to be expected,” he said.

“There just aren’t many alternatives for many themed products, including licensed themes…these are some of our most popular products in the store. [and] not being able to sell them will certainly have an impact.

Despite the ban introduced in January, Mr Malhotra said there was still some uncertainty about what he might sell at his store.

Ajay Malhotra says he is still trying to figure out what supplies he can and cannot sell. (ABC NewsJon )

“There’s been a lot of misinformation…we’re still getting emails until last week about what’s banned and what’s not,” he said.

“There are just a lot of gray areas [and]as a retailer, we are very dependent on what our suppliers tell us is allowed and what is not allowed because we do not know the exact composition of each product.”

Retailers scrambled amid inconsistent rules

As part of the first phase of the WA government ban, single-use plastics or disposable items strictly prohibited from July 1, 2022 will include:

  • plates
  • balls
  • cutlery
  • stirrers
  • straws
  • thick plastic bags
  • polystyrene takeaway food containers
  • helium balloon releases.

The regulations also include items made from compostable or plant-based plastics, as well as paper products, which have a plastic coating or lining, such as colored or printed paper plates and bowls commonly used for parties and celebrations.

Western Australia is the first state to ban such items, leaving retailers such as Mr Malhotra scrambling to find suitable alternatives.

“Not having uniform legislation across states has been very difficult for suppliers and retailers in the party supply industry,” he said.

“Western Australia is extremely strict with this requirement, which makes it very difficult for us to source products in the future and also makes it very difficult for suppliers to actually produce something that meets all of the states requirements. .”

However, Mr Malhotra said, there was a “loophole”, allowing consumers to continue buying these products on the highway, meaning they would still end up in Western Australian landfills after use.

“That doesn’t really solve the problem…which is [decreasing the number of] Plastic [items] go to the landfill,” he said.

“The whole industry is trying to defend this, which is already here, which is already in Western Australia, it doesn’t make sense for us to throw this at a huge loss.”

“No one is left behind”

Working with the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, the National Retail Association has spent the first half of this year engaging with thousands of retailers to help them understand and prepare for the ban. .

A corporate head shot of Dominique Lamb with long, slicked-back blonde hair and a blue jacket
Dominique Lamb praised the government for involving businesses in the plan to reduce plastics. (ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

However, chief executive Dominique Lamb admits that patience and continued support would still be needed over the next few months.

“We know that many of our national brands have moved to more sustainable bag options. [and] more sustainable packaging options over time, but for small businesses this is a big change for them,” she said.

“They need that time, and they need that information, so they can understand what their obligations and responsibilities are, and also why those decisions were made.”

Ms Lamb praised the Western Australian government not only for taking the environment ‘incredibly seriously’, but also for its commitment to an ‘education first’ approach to enforcement. new rules.

“It’s been really important, from our perspective, to see a government that really wants to work with businesses and understand the issues they’re having right now,” she said.

“And to see that they are committed to making sure there are translatable materials that speak to all the different people who work in our space, and making sure no one is left behind when this is a change that will ultimately improve our environment.”

Takeaway businesses are asking for flexibility

A second set of changes banning disposable cups for cold drinks will come into effect in October, including bioplastic cups and plastic-lined paper cups.

Items to be banned by the end of 2022 include:

  • produce bags
  • coffee cups and lids
  • lidded containers
  • microbeads
  • polystyrene packaging
  • cotton swab sticks
  • oxo-degradable additives (plastics designed to break into fragments more quickly under certain conditions).

Ms Lamb said the government decided to ban lidless containers first to focus on one product instead of two, as there were a variety of lids available.

Plastic food containers with Asian foods
The lidded container ban will affect thousands of businesses.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

“They are currently working alongside suppliers as well as retailers to determine what exemptions could potentially apply to certain products with lids, which may not be such an environmentally harmful plastic,” she said. .

Regarding the enforcement of the ban, Ms Lamb said it was important for businesses to understand their obligations before tougher penalties, such as fines, were implemented.

Takeaway business faces higher costs

However, for takeaway businesses such as Lunch Bar Twenty2 in north-west Perth, it may be months before they can make the switch.

The family business uses single-use plastics for almost everything from soup bowls and take-out containers to cutlery and plastic cups for frozen drinks.

“We would need at least three months to adapt, just because of COVID, because in that two-year period we bought a lot of stock [and] obviously we can’t use up all our stock in six months,” manager Natalie Nguyen said.

“We have to go buy and change everything… right now I’m paying $20 for a carton of plastic fork [but] I will have to pay $80 for the bamboo one.

“That means we’ll have to raise our prices… so customers can rethink coming to us.”

Natalie Nguyen wears glasses and a black t-shirt as she stands on the street in front of a lunch bar sign
Natalie Nguyen says the changes will make it difficult for her to do business.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

Ms Nguyen said she was actively researching alternatives, such as foil or candy cane packaging, but said it would not be ideal for foods such as hot soups.

“The bowls will tear and the soups will leak out and they may not be able to reuse them because they fall apart,” she said.

“I think the government should allow us to use our products that we have left [or]if we can somehow prove that we have that much stock, they can help us by paying us back for anything we have to throw away or recycle.”

Wholesaler in mind

Although fresh produce packaging is currently exempt from the ban, the state government has indicated that it may be considered in the future.

However, a Western Australian tomato wholesaler is already making changes by using eco-friendly trays, made from recycled cardboard.

EPT Produce director Wally Di Giosaffate spent 15 months working on a suitable alternative to plastic trays that contain cherry and grape tomatoes.

Wally stands in front of stacks of cardboard boxes, wearing high visibility
Wally Di Giosaffate says he wanted to get a head start with the coming into force of new rules regarding the use of plastic.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

“Everyone will eventually become eco-friendly sooner or later…so rather than wait for it to become legislation, I thought I’d start initiating it as soon as possible,” he said .

“And it’s been a huge hit with a lot of stores and people seeing them in store, they’re just raving about it.”

Stacks of cardboard boxes containing grape tomatoes
Tomatoes are packed in cardboard to save plastic. (ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

The Perth-based wholesaler hopes others will follow its lead to help protect the environment.

“I know things don’t happen overnight, but we as people can also do our little part, and I thought it was my little part to do something for the environment and community, and for future generations of my children and everyone’s children.”

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