Media Release Plastic Pollution

NSW proposes ban on balloon releases, plastic cigarette butts in ambitious plan

October 30, 2023

The Australian Marine Conservation Society has praised an ambitious plan by the New South Wales Government to dramatically expand its ban on single-use plastics, bringing NSW into line with other states and territories around the country and tackling endemic sources of microplastic such as plastic cigarette filters.

The NSW government is proposing to extend its ban on single-use plastics to include heavyweight plastic shopping bags, fruit and vegetable produce bags, cups and bowls, takeaway food containers, and expanded polystyrene food trays.

The proposal also suggests banning common sources of microplastics including single-serve plastic condiment packages, plastic fruit stickers, bread tags, lollipop sticks, pizza savers, and microbeads in cleaning products.

In a critical move to protect turtles and seabirds, the NSW government is also planning to ban the deliberate release of helium balloons, as well as plastic balloon sticks and ties. NSW and the Australian Capital Territory are the only jurisdictions whose laws currently permit the deliberate release of balloons into the sky. Balloons are known to be the most lethal type of plastic for seabirds, and are commonly ingested by turtles that mistake them for jellyfish.

In addition to extending the ban, the government has also proposed introducing new product design standards to tackle other common sources of ocean plastic, including:

  • requirements for plastic beverage bottles to have tethered lids that remain attached to the bottle;

  • standards preventing plastic in cigarette filters;

  • requirements for all new washing machines to be fitted with a microfibre filter;

  • requirements to phase out harmful chemicals in plastics and packaging, such as PFAS.

AMCS Plastics Campaign Manager Shane Cucow said: “We are pleased to see the Minns government stepping up to make NSW a leader in fighting ocean plastic, with its plan to protect this state’s incredible coastline and unique wildlife.

“The plastics that have been proposed for phase-out, such as thick plastic bags, plastic cigarette filters and deliberately released balloons, are some of the most dangerous plastics for the whales, turtles and seabirds that call NSW home.

“Balloons are the most lethal plastic for our seabirds, which become entangled in their strings or ingest them by mistake. Yet historically NSW has explicitly allowed up to 19 balloons to be deliberately released into the sky, endangering wildlife.

“When ingested by turtles, balloons stretch and wrap around other items in their stomachs, causing life threatening blockages.

“Despite filters being proven to be ineffective, cigarette butts are the single most common plastic found in ocean cleanups. Used once and flicked away, smokers are blindly filling our oceans with microplastics.

“These plans will meet or beat almost every other state or territory’s ban on single-use plastics, and raise our ambitions for the protection of wildlife.

Despite the large range of plastics proposed in the NSW government’s stage two ban, there are still some gaps, with the government excluding expanded polystyrene (EPS) product packaging from its proposals. Loose fill EPS packaging is being banned in the ACT, Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia, while moulded EPS packaging will be partially banned in WA from 2025.

“We urge the NSW government to expand its proposals to include loose-fill and moulded expanded polystyrene packaging, joining states such as WA.

“Expanded polystyrene is highly dangerous and hard to recycle, fragmenting easily and blowing out into the oceans. Floating on the surface, it is easily ingested by birds swooping down to feed or filter feeders sucking in water.”

The government’s proposals will be open for public consultation until 4 February 2024.