EVERYONE'S hating on single-use plastic right now. Bags are out, straws are on the way out and takeaway plastic counters could soon go the way of the dodo.

But academics have warned there are some single-use plastic items we'd be screwed without.

Single-use plastic bags have already been banned in ACT, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Bans come into force in Queensland and Western Australia on Sunday, with retailers in the Sunshine State, for instance, facing fines of $6300 each time they hand over one of the bags.

The Victorian Government has said it will legislate against thin plastic bags by the end of the year, which could leave NSW as the only state or territory where the carriers are still permitted.


Despite there being no current anti-bag legislation in Victoria or NSW, retailers Woolworths, Coles, IGA and Big W have nevertheless removed or are about to remove thin plastic bags.

Woolworths has also said it will stop selling plastic straws by the end of 2018 and will remove plastic packaging from a further 80 fruit and vegetable lines in a bid to appease increasingly environmentally conscious customers.

But we will likely never achieve the aim of ditching single-use plastic completely. That's because our lives depend on some one-time only plastics.

"Most of us will get along just fine without throwaway plastic in our daily lives. But there are nevertheless many legitimate applications for single-use plastics," Paul Harvey, an environmental scientist at Macquarie University, said.

"Take medicine, for example, where single-use plastics are a key part of infection control. Having a blood test requires gloves made from plastic, a plastic syringe, and a plastic vial, all of which are single use to control contamination and infection.

"While glass is often suggested as an alternative, this introduces challenges in cleaning, transport and availability, particularly in emergency situations where resources may be limited," Mr Harvey wrote inThe Conversation.

Single-use straws are vital for people with some disabilities.
Single-use straws are vital for people with some disabilities.

Single-use plastics were also vital in scientific research.

"Many scientists cringe as they look at their waste bin at the end of a session in the lab. Typically, it will be filled with pipettes, gloves, vials, sample bags, and the list goes on."

But they are vital and the multiple use alternatives might not provide the protection or stability or could prevent cross contamination.

Most food and drinks don't need single-use plastic wrote Mr Harvey. But it was essential in some instances.

"Domestic food aid, emergency responses, and international aid efforts all require food and water that can be stored without refrigeration and distributed when and where it's needed. Often this means packaging it in lightweight, single-use plastics."

A plastic wrapped emergency ration pack.
A plastic wrapped emergency ration pack.

Even the straw had a role: "Consider the case of someone with a disability who can only eat with the aid of a flexible plastic straw. Without appropriate exemptions, a federal legislative ban on single-use plastic straws could prevent people in need from accessing a basic medical aid."

Overall, said Mr Harvey, the increasing phase out of single use plastics was a positive move. But we shouldn't throw the baby out with the plastic bathwater

"We need to ensure that we have the right strategy to accommodate those who still depend on single-use plastics.

"This would include thinking seriously and developing single-use products that have a reduced environmental effect and can be used in these applications."