Information for schools and education providers

This guide helps schools and other education providers understand the plastics bans and how they apply to them.

The NSW Plastics Action Plan was released in June 2021. It highlights the phase-out of certain single-use plastics as a key action, with a timetable for phasing out the most littered plastic items. The Plastic Reduction and Circular Economy Act (PRCE Act) was made in November 2021 to enable this to occur.

The bans apply to schools and education providers

Organisations that provide educational services or activities (such as schools) are included in the bans, along with all other NSW businesses. While there are no general exemptions for schools, there are some specific exemptions that apply in certain settings or circumstances, so please check current plastics exemptions for details.

The bans apply even if the items are used for educational purposes (such as art or science lessons)

Schools should not be ordering or purchasing any banned items now that the bans are in place.

Banned items

From 1 June 2022

  • lightweight plastic bags with handles, other than a barrier bag, that are 35 microns or less in thickness at any part of the bag.

From 1 November 2022

  • single-use plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery (including chopsticks and sporks), plates, bowls (excluding those with spill-proof lids) and cotton buds
  • expanded polystyrene (EPS) food service ware, including cups
  • certain rinse-off personal care products containing plastic microbeads.

The bans include items made from biodegradable plastic, compostable plastic (including Australian certified compostable plastic) or bioplastics.

What is not banned?

Only the items listed above are currently banned. The following items are not banned at this stage, but could be reviewed in future: plastic glitter, balloons, cups (except for foam cups made of EPS), drink bottles, cling film, sandwich bags, freezer bags, food containers, gloves, PPE and scientific equipment.

Barrier bags (such as nappy bags, produce bags and waste bags) are not currently banned.

Supplying straws to staff or students with a disability or medical need

There is an exemption in place that allows supply of plastic single-use straws to an individual who needs one due to a disability or other medical need, or an individual / organisation acting on behalf of someone who does.

For example, canteen staff and volunteers can supply a plastic single-use straw when asked by a student or staff member who needs one due to disability or other medical need. You cannot have the straws on display and must keep the straws out of view, in a location that is not publicly accessible, for example, behind the counter.

You do not need to ask the student or staff for proof that they need a plastic single-use straw for themselves or someone else, and we recommend, for privacy reasons, that you do not ask.

Any individual or organisation can also act on behalf of a person who needs a plastic single-use straw – for example, teachers, parents or carers can ask for a straw on behalf of a student who needs one.

First aid kits and COVID-19 testing

There is an exemption in place that allows supply of single-use plastic cotton buds for a medical, scientific or forensic purpose. The exemption allows certain types of cotton buds including swabs, such as those found in a COVID-19 test or first aid kit, to continue being supplied.

Plastic single-use cotton buds should not be supplied in other settings, such as art or science classes, as this is considered an educational purpose (and not a scientific purpose or other exempt purpose).

Rules for canteens

Canteens can no longer supply any of the banned items – for example, single-use plastic plates, bowls (excluding those designed or intended to have a spill-proof lid), straws and expanded polystyrene food ware.

The ban does not currently include containers or bowls with spill-proof lids that may be used to serve, for example, fruit salad, yoghurt or snack items.

Canteens can supply single-use plastic straws to a person who needs one due to a disability or other medical need.

Who is responsible for making sure the rules are being followed?

The NSW EPA is the sole regulator for the bans and will influence, enable, monitor and enforce compliance.

Managing external vendors

The liability for supply of a banned item is not limited to only one person in the supply chain. For example, if the owner of the educational premises made the item available by supplying banned items to contractors (such as a canteen operator or stallholder at a school fair), who then distribute or on-supply these items, then both parties are likely to be involved in supply.

We encourage all organisations to help build awareness of the bans with your vendors by:

  • circulating general information and communications to the vendors about the bans
  • reviewing your service guidelines, to ensure you are not promoting the use of banned items by vendors
  • including clauses in the vendors’ contracts, noting that vendors cannot supply the prohibited plastic items as prescribed in the PRCE Act, unless an exemption applies.

Resources available for schools

Resources, such as newsletter content, social media content, print, video and other infographics can be downloaded from our website. You can tailor these resources to suit your needs.

Recycling banned items

To find a recycler, use the Business recycling or Recycling near you websites.