Plastic straws and cotton buds with plastic sticks will be added to an ever-growing list of banned plastic substances in the ACT from 1 July 2022.
From that date, the Territory will be the first Australian jurisdiction to get rid of plastic cotton buds entirely.
While fines of up to $8000 will apply to businesses that contravene the laws, the Territory Government has long favoured an education-first approach.
Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said although the countdown is on for the majority of Canberrans and businesses to find alternatives, exemptions would be in place for people with a disability who needed to use plastic straws.
From 1 July, plastic straws will no longer be able to be purchased at supermarkets but a medical exemption will be in place so people who need them can buy them from pharmacies. Aged care and disability facilities will also be able to stock and supply the items.
Likewise, while it won’t be compulsory for hospitality businesses such as coffee shops and restaurants to stock plastic straws, those that do can supply individuals with one on request.
Nobody is required to show proof or give a reason for them needing a straw, Mr Steel confirmed, but businesses won’t be permitted to have them out on display.
“The difference for the community is that when you go to a bar and order a soft drink, you’re not going to get the default plastic straw that comes with it anymore,” Mr Steel said yesterday (23 May).
“That’s only going to be available for people who request it – but without showing proof of a disability or a medical exemption.”
The government sought to include single-use plastic fruit and vegetable bags in this tranche of banned products but Mr Steel said throughout the consultation process with business and the community, it had become evident there “weren’t great alternatives right at the moment”.
He said that would be delayed until the government had built a large-scale composting plant to manage the compostable versions of the barrier bags. A procurement process is underway to find a company to build that facility with the exact specifications to be determined further down the track.
The next target of the plastics ban will likely be heavy plastic bags and plastic takeaway containers.
Items like single-use plastic cutlery and drink stirrers, expanded polystyrene takeaway food and beverage containers and thin plastic bags have been prohibited in the Territory since that ban came into effect last year.
Mr Steel said the Territory Government – which has a target of diverting 90 per cent of waste from landfill by 2025 – would soon be undertaking an audit of the ACT’s garbage bins to identify which single-use plastic products remained in the garbage.
“We’re going to be looking at those products and working out, in conjunction with business and industry, which ones we can tackle next,” Mr Steel explained.
“We will determine which ones can be replaced by good, sustainable alternatives and which ones can be avoided altogether.”
The Minister said the legislation was ready and waiting to expand the single-use plastics ban further, but it was important that businesses were ready and able to make the switch.
He also rejected suggestions the ACT was moving too slowly to phase out single-use plastics but acknowledged the community was moving quicker than the Territory government on transitioning away from using them.
“Ninety per cent of Canberrans support prohibiting single-use plastic straws, but we still have a way to go to work with industry to get rid of some of these products and also to invest in alternatives,” Mr Steel said.