The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government has released a discussion paper for public comment on its plan to cut “problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics.”
The paper explores the possibility of banning plastic items like cutlery, coffee cups, straws, stirrers, takeaway containers, and light-weight produce bags. Canberra locals have been asked to first read the discussion paper before sharing their views on which single-use plastic item the government should work to phase-out or ban first.
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"Your feedback will inform what the ACT government does in the short and long term to address single-use plastic, if a phase-out or ban on single-use plastic is introduced, and what plastic products this might include," the government’s online conversation platform, YourSay, states.
City Services Minister Chris Steel said the ACT has previously worked to diminish single-use plastics, but, additional steps need to be taken if Canberra is to become “Australia’s most sustainable city.” In 2011, the ACT implemented a statewide plastic shopping bag ban.
"Single-use plastic litters our waterways, city parks, and bush landscapes and goes into landfill where it may take hundreds or even thousands of years to break down,” he stated. “We want to hear from the community about how we can reduce the use of certain single-use plastics where there are clear alternatives that are good for the environment and practical for business, industry, and consumers.”
Some single-use plastic items will be barred from the potential ban. Removed from public consideration are sanitary items, plastic beverage containers, nappies, incontinence products, cotton buds, and health-related sterile items like syringes.
The ACT’s public discussion paper follows similar schemes by South Australia, Western Australia, and Hobart. Over the past few years, significant strides have also been made globally, with harsh plastic bans implemented in Taiwan, Kenya, Zimbabwe, France, and New Delhi.
The global momentum to ban harmful plastics, has, however, not been without criticism.
Bans, particularly on single-use plastic straws, have ramifications for people with diverse abilities who depend on them to eat and drink. According to the disability community, alternatives such as bamboo straws often fail to meet the needs of people living with muscle weakness diseases like muscular dystrophy.
Rights activist Michaela Hollywood, who lives with muscular dystrophy, told the ABC the welfare and comfort of people with disabilities need to factor into all debates around plastic straw and cutlery bans.
"As a disabled person I am deeply concerned about the environment,” she stated. “But, disabled people who have no alternatives should be exempt from bans. Public places should have plastic straws, and other plastic products like cutlery, available on request only for those for whom it is an essential need, not a luxury."
Steel agreed that eliminating single-use plastic could have a direct health affect on people with disabilities, as well as financially on local business owners. He urged these groups to respond to the discussion paper actively.
"We know from plastic straw bans from other parts of the world that we need to consider the social equity impact on people with a disability,” he stated. “I welcome their contribution on how we can responsibly manage our environment while taking these issues into account.”
The paper will remain open for public discussion until July 2019.