Sometimes passion springs up in the most unlikely places. You wouldn’t think that people could get excited about rubbish, and yet in Canberra, the topic generates a surprising level of interest – specifically with regard to reducing waste. Given this, it is heartening to see that the ACT Government is looking into the option of banning single-use plastics in the ACT and is inviting the community to get involved and share their views until the end of consultation in July 2019.
This is a really important discussion to get involved in. Canberrans are some of Australia’s biggest recyclers. We were early adopters of models such as the ban on single-use plastic bags – something that was radical at the time but is now seen as mainstream and operating across Australia.
We are however still big users of plastic. Many of us still struggle to realise good intentions on the lower parts of the waste reduction hierarchy particularly when it comes to plastic– that is to refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle. Even when we are motivated, sometimes when we are making those tiny daily decisions, things don’t go to plan. We can instinctively reach for the cling wrap when storing food rather than a reusable container. We can order a drink and then have it arrive with a plastic straw without first checking. We can feel frustrated when we realise the keep cup is in our other bag or we have left our reusable bags at home.
As a community things are shifting. There are now businesses that are recognising their role in supporting community in living a life less wasteful. There are great local examples of how businesses are making those daily decisions easier to get right. My local supermarket provides reusable bags for people who might have forgotten to bring them. Cafes are starting to provide reusable mugs and cups and encourage people to bring them back when they can. More and more cafes and restaurants have gone plastic straw-free. Even so, there is still lots of plastic packaging in the food we purchase and lots of plastic in the supply chain.
We are not going to make the big shifts we need at a population level without a shared view of how we get there, and what sorts of activities we need to focus on. This is where Governments can help, and where sometimes regulation can be a useful tool to shift behaviour at a population level.
The ACT Government has a long tradition of working on ways to reduce waste – from the early initiatives of introducing kerbside recycling, the No Waste to landfill by 2010 campaign and the introduction of the ban on single-use plastic bags in 2011. Now, like many other parts of the globe, it is turning its focus to plastic use and the waste created by single-use plastic.
This is an area where we have some leaders to look to – the European Union has committed to eliminating single-use plastics by 2021. Only this week Canada has announced they will do the same. India has made a commitment to stop using single-use plastic by 2022.
As a city, the level of influence we have is more limited and we need to identify where we can make the biggest differences. There are examples of cities across the world moving to phase out single-use plastics, including Mexico City, Malibu and Seattle. Closer to home, Hobart is another city moving to eliminate single-use plastic.
I am excited that Canberra is showing leadership in moving to a circular economy, where we recognise the real value (and cost) of the materials that are used throughout the production process. Part of this must be designing single-use plastic out of the system. This is not something we are going to achieve solely through our individual decisions and deciding as a community how we eliminate using single-use plastic will need to be supported by strong regulation.
What do you think we should prioritise when reducing our use of single-use plastic?
More information on how to have your view heard is on the yoursay website.