Australia is surrounded by gorgeous beaches — and soon, locals can expect them to be polluted with far less single-use plastic. South Australia has just become the first Australian state to enact a ban on single-use plastic — of multiple varieties — and Australians are cheering the new legislation, even though there are a few caveats.
As reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), during the second week of September 2020, the South Australia State Parliament passed legislation banning the sale, supply, and distribution of single-use plastic products including forks, knives, spoons, straws, and coffee stirrers. Even though the ban was signed into law, it’s not expected to go into effect until 2021, with the coronavirus pandemic accounting for the delay.
Like many other plastic straw bans, this one will include exceptions for people who need to use plastic straws to drink due to a disability or medical reason.
While some environmentalists critique single-use plastic bans for not being enough to make an impact, there is evidence that they can — after all, Australians supposedly use about 10 million plastic straws per day, so one of the nation’s six states banning them could make a significant dent in that number. More importantly, governmental bans on plastic straws and other single-use plastic items can be a gateway for that state to ban other kinds of single-use plastic; these bans can also inspire neighboring states to follow suit with bans of their own.
In fact, South Australia plans to ban several other kinds of single-use plastic if this first ban goes well.
"We want to deal with the low-hanging fruit in the first few months, that's drink stirrers, cutlery, straws, then next year we'll move onto takeaway containers," State Environment and Water Minister David Speirs said, as per ABC. "Then we'll be looking at coffee cups, fruit and veg barrier bags … Over the next couple of years I think we'll move quickly towards being single-use plastic free, there's a real hunger in the community."
This new legislation even includes a list of other items that South Australia will consider banning in the future, including single-use coffee plates, food containers, cups and lids, bags, balloon sticks and ties, and cotton swabs, according to The Guardian.
While it’s understandable that the government is waiting until next year to enact the ban, so as not to put additional pressure on restaurants who are already struggling to keep business up during the pandemic, it should be noted that using reusables has been deemed perfectly safe during COVID-19.
In June, a coalition of more than 100 health experts published a statement reassuring the public that "reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene." As the health experts explained, COVID-19 can spread on brand new, single-use dishes just as easily as it can on reusable dishes — and so long as reusables are washed properly, there’s no reason to be afraid of them right now, even at restaurants.
So next time you order a meal or coffee during the pandemic, whether you get it to-go, for outdoor dining, or indoor dining (if those options are available where you live), make like South Australia and skip the disposable straw, utensils, and stirrer.