Single use plastic straws are essential for many people with disabilities. They allow for the safe consumption of liquids, in a way that is unmatched by reusable or recyclable alternatives. These alternatives can cause a variety of issues – they are a choking or injury hazard, they can be expensive, hard to clean or an allergen risk. The ACT government has strongly committed to phasing out single use plastics, including straws. The ACT government has also made clear that the ban will include provisions for those who need them to continue to access plastic straws. However, this is not a guarantee of access, especially in public spaces like cafes and restaurants.
AFI has recommended that plastic straws are not banned in the ACT. Instead, hospitality businesses should be required to carry them and offer customers a choice between a reusable/recyclable straw and a plastic one. Alongside this we recommend the ACT government invest in a mechanism to specifically collect plastic straws, and develop the circular economy infrastructure needed to recycle them. Plastic straws frequently end up in waterways because of their small size and weight. If they can be properly collected, this environmental impact is mitigated. Further, the technology to recycle single use plastic straws already exists. If these recommendations were implemented in the ACT, public and social spaces would remain accessible, while also improving the rate of plastic recycling in the ACT.
AFI strongly support the development of a circular economy in the ACT and phasing out unnecessary single use plastics. We urge the ACT government to take this opportunity to invest in the development of a reusable alternative to single use plastic straws that meets the needs of people with disabilities; taking advantage of the major centres of research in the ACT.
As part of the consultation process, the ACT government has put forward the bans implemented in South Australia and Queensland as references. AFI is strongly opposed to the Queensland model, as it completely bans hospitality venues from stocking plastic straws. The South Australian model allows businesses to opt into carrying plastic straws and provide them only upon request. While this is better than the Queensland model, it is far from ideal. Businesses are placed in a position to grant or revoke access by choosing to carry straws. Additionally, the burden is placed on people with disabilities to request a straw especially, creating an opportunity for discrimination. AFI has recommended that if the South Australian model is implemented, it is done with the modification that businesses must have plastic straws to provide upon request. Additionally, these changes need to be accompanied by widespread education and awareness-raising. So that both venues and patrons understand that plastic straws will be provided upon request without the need for proof or questioning.