Plastics Action Plan outcomes

The outcomes will be achieved through the phase out of certain problematic or unnecessary plastic products, accelerating the transition to more sustainable and less harmful plastic products by funding innovation and research, and better managing the leakage of problem plastic litter.

The 4 long-term outcomes set out in the plan aim to:

  1. reduce plastic waste generation
  2. make the most of our plastic resources
  3. reduce plastic leakage
  4. improve our understanding of the future of plastics.

Outcome 1: Reduced plastic waste generation

Action 1: Introduce legislation to reduce harmful plastics

Phasing out single-use plastics

The NSW Government has legislated to phase out some of the most littered plastic items. This will stop almost 2.7 billion pieces of plastic litter from entering the environment over the next 20 years.

While compostable plastic, bioplastic or biodegradable plastic alternatives may be available for some items, these plastics only break down under specific conditions, such as in industrial composting facilities. As these items are highly littered and people are unlikely to take them to the right facilities, they can create just as big a problem as conventional plastic, so we will also phase these out.

People with disability or other special needs can still access plastic straws for personal use.

Timetable for phasing out of the most littered plastic items


Single-use and problematic plastic items

From 1 June 2022

  • Lightweight plastic shopping bags

From 1 November 2022

  • Plastic straws
  • Plastic stirrers
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Plastic plates
  • Plastic bowls (without lids)
  • Expanded polystyrene food service items
  • Cotton buds with plastic sticks
  • Microbeads in rinse-off personal care and cosmetic products

Review in 3 years (from passage of legislation)

  • Plastic bowls (including lids)
  • Plastic cups, including lids
  • Oxo-degradable plastics
  • Fruit stickers (non-compostable)
  • Heavyweight plastic shopping bags
  • Barrier/ produce bags

Setting design standards to limit the impact of harmful plastics

The NSW Government is leading the nation in establishing a new legislative framework to set design standards that can tackle harmful and problematic plastics. The first design standard phased out microbeads in certain personal care items from 1 November 2022.

Microbeads are used in a variety of products ranging from beauty products, paints, industrial detergents, cleaning products, as well as products used in the oil and gas industry. Microbeads enter our waterways through our drains, causing harm to wildlife and the environment.

Future design standards could be made under the new legislation to address other issues. Any future design standards would be subject to analysis of the environmental and economic impacts, consideration of any technical or performance requirements and extensive consultation with stakeholders. We will also continue to work with the federal and other state governments and territories to make sure there is a uniform approach where possible.

Making producers and brand owners of plastic packaging more responsible

The Australian packaging industry, through the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), has committed to a range of voluntary national targets. It aims to phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use packaging by 2025. To do this, the industry will:

  • use an average of 20% recycled content in plastic packaging
  • ensure all packaging is recyclable or reusable
  • recover 70% of all plastic packaging.

While some companies have been leading the way, overall industry progress has been slow and more action is needed. We will work closely with the federal government and APCO to hold industry to account on the commitments they have made.

In the meantime, we will require the packaging industry to improve reporting to the NSW Government on its progress against the voluntary targets. We will review progress in three years (from release of the plan) and if industry has not taken sufficient action, we will consider mandating targets or design standards to address the issues.

We will also level the playing field for packaging producers by requiring all eligible, non-APCO member businesses to also meet the national targets.

Action 2: Accelerate the transition to better plastic products

Many manufacturers, retailers and builders have started to shift away from plastic or to use plastic that is more easily recycled. Consumers are demanding that everyday items be plastic-free.

This transition is good for our environment and economy because it reduces plastic litter and the amount of plastic we send to landfill. It also keeps materials in the economy for longer. However, changing production processes and using new materials can be costly at first and may require investment.

We have established a $10 million Circular Materials Fund to help producers change sooner. The fund will help businesses such as manufacturers, builders and retailers with projects that:

  • reduce the use of virgin plastic
  • reduce the use of hard-to-recycle plastics
  • increase the use of recycled plastic in products
  • bring together producers, end users and the resource recovery sector.

These partnerships will ensure businesses make better decisions about the lifecycle of products from the start.

Outcome 2: Make the most of our plastic resources

Action 3: Support innovation

Recycling technology does not always keep pace with new types of plastics on the market. Some plastics are typically difficult to recycle because of the way they are used. Plastics used in medical or aged care may require special treatment due to the potential of contamination.

The NSW Government will provide up to $5 million towards innovative trials and pilot programs which improve plastic recyclability, alternatives or recovery. We will provide funding to:

  • address plastic medical waste, redirecting this waste from landfill back into the circular economy
  • support new plastics processing infrastructure through the $35 million Remanufacture NSW initiative.

To help increase the uptake of products with recycled content, we will develop an online portal to link NSW plastics recyclers with government procurement bodies.

Outcome 3: Reduced plastic leakage

Action 4: Tackle cigarette butt litter

Cigarette butts are one of the largest sources of plastic litter. They not only remain in our natural environment for a long time, but they are often toxic and can wash into our waterways, usually through stormwater systems.

The community is typically burdened with the immediate costs of cleaning up cigarette litter, with the long-term environmental harm becoming an intergenerational issue.

The NSW Government will investigate a new extended producer responsibility scheme making tobacco companies take responsibility for environmental impacts of their products. This may be by setting mandatory litter reduction targets to be met through a range of approved activities.

Action 5: Reduce the risk of nurdles entering the environment

Nurdles are small plastic pellets used to manufacture plastic products. Owing to their tiny size, they are hard to remove from the environment and their usually clear appearance mean nurdles can be mistaken for food by marine wildlife.

To help prevent nurdles entering our waterways, the NSW Government will provide $500,000 to help plastic manufacturers improve their systems. We will also provide guidance for councils about best practice nurdle management, similar to Operation Clean Sweep guidelines. Operation Clean Sweep is a global initiative to help plastics manufacturers collect and correctly dispose of resin pellets and flakes so they do not flow into waterways.

Outcome 4: Improved understanding of the future of plastics

Action 6: Support plastics research

Plastic is a relatively new material, and we do not have a full understanding of its long-term impacts on the environment and human health, or how to best dispose, reuse and recycle it.

To help fill this information gap, the NSW Government will commit $2 million for a new Plastics Research Partnership. The partnership will help drive research within NSW universities and research institutions to further our understanding of the future of plastics in the world.