Releasing helium balloons and the use of thick shopping bags will be banned starting Friday in parts of Australia as state authorities there impose more restrictions on single-use plastic.
Releasing helium balloons into the sky is now banned in the Australian state of Queensland. Research has shown that plastic balloons are a significant threat to seabirds, which can mistake them for food.
There are also new bans in other parts of the country, including microbeads found in personal care and cleaning products. Western Australia is restricting the use of polystyrene packaging, while South Australia is banning single-use bowls and plates, starting Friday.
There are exemptions for some businesses, including medical clinics and dental practices.
The restrictions add to Australia’s existing waste laws. In 2018, the Queensland government outlawed single-use lightweight plastic shopping bags. In September 2021, the northern state expanded the ban to disposable plastic straws, cutlery, bowls and plates.
Shane Cucow, plastics campaign manager at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said more restrictions are now in place.
"Across Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia a range of single-use plastics are being added to the bans," he said. "In particular, what we are seeing is cotton bud sticks and microbeads being added to the bans. But also, in some of those jurisdictions things like expanded polystyrene loose-filled packaging, which is the highly light and easy to blow away kind of loose beads of packaging that you can sometimes find when things are being mailed out to people."
There are no nationwide laws restricting the use of plastic in Australia. The six states and two main territories set their own standards.
While releasing helium balloons is banned in Queensland, it remains legal in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, where up to 20 balloons can be let go at once by people at parties, protests or for advertising.
Other states, such as Western Australia, have implemented multiple layers of bans on single-use plastic, while others like Tasmania have taken minimal action.
Cucow said parts of Australia are leading the charge to eliminate wasteful plastic items.
"In Australia, we are now seeing a race to the top between the states and territories, each competing to ban the most single-use plastics that are lethal for ocean wildlife, and this is really good news because what we are seeing is a real competition to be ambitious," he said.
Conservationists say that in the past five years, Australia has become a world leader in banning single-use plastics, but they want even more to be done to curb their use and encourage more recycling.