Matt Kean proposes NSW ban on plastic cotton buds

The NSW government will order a sweeping phase-out of “problematic” plastic items that could signal the end for single-use items like bags and straws, but also one cosmetic staple.

After more than a year of pressure from the Opposition, Environment Minister Matt Kean took the long-delayed NSW Plastics Action Plan to cabinet on Monday night – which includes an eventual ban on the humble plastic-stick cotton bud.

As part of the plan, lightweight plastic shopping bags will be removed from circulation first, followed by an end to plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery, cotton buds with plastic sticks and expanded polystyrene food service items, The Daily Telegraphreports.

Single-use plastic bowls and plates were flagged for longer term review.

While Minister for Women, Bronnie Taylor, reportedly objected the ban on cotton buds with plastic sticks, Mr Kean defended the choice by explaining pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson was already phasing them out.

In Victoria, the state government has also included the item in its ban on single-use plastics by 2023, while Coles and Woolworths have vowed to remove the plastic variety from their shelves. Aldi has already replaced plastic cotton buds with a paper-stemmed version, avoiding over 357 million plastic stems from ending up in landfill each year.

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Visitors at Sydney Water’s Malabar Wastewater Treatment Plant were told by general manager Maryanne Graham last week that the shape of the cotton buds and the buoyancy of the plastic variety meant they were harder than most waste to filter, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

“Two of the biggest causes of damage to our networks are caused by wet wipes and cotton buds being flushed down the toilet,” Ms Graham explained.

“These seemingly harmless single-use toiletries are not biodegradable and do not dissolve like toilet paper does.

“Unfortunately, [the buds] combine with fats and oils and other debris to cause large obstructions in pipes and that leads to burst pipes and back flows into people’s homes.

“Cotton buds and wet wipes also damage our screening equipment, so we ask people to dispose of them in the recycling or rubbish bin.”

Mr Kean said his visit to the facility showed him how severe the problem can be.

“There is far too much plastic getting into our environment, including our wastewater,” he said. “I want to see manufacturers leading by example and reducing the amount of plastic they use.”

Director of the Boomerang Alliance, which represents 53 environment groups and local government organisations across Australia who are concerned about packaging and waste, Jeff Angel, told the paper clean-up groups were increasingly reporting ugly evidence of plastic pollution and states should accelerate plans to ban the waste.

“Given it’s a very expensive and slow process to upgrade the sewerage plants and there are easily available alternatives replacing plastic with bamboo – the NSW government should ban the plastic Q-tips by the end of 2021 along with other priority single-use items,” he said.

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Last March, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she wanted her state to be a leader in reducing waste and protecting the environment.

Mr Kean, at the time, said the plan would “reduce single-use, unnecessary and problematic plastics in NSW”.

“It sets the stage for the phase-out of priority single-use plastics, tripling the proportion of plastic recycled by 2030, reducing plastic litter by a quarter and making our state a leader in plastics research and development,” he said.

In light of this week’s news, One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham accused the Berejiklian government of sounding the death knell on barbecues and children’s birthday parties with the policy.

“This will be an inconvenience for families. Things like plastic plates and cups are often the affordable option,” he said.

Mr Latham called on his upper house colleagues “to reject the part of the legislation killing off the great Aussie picnic and making children’s parties and barbecues harder for families”.

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