Single-use plastic may be phased out in Canberra

ACT business owners have welcomed the proposed government ban on single-use plastics in Canberra, but said it would take time for customers to change their habits.

The government has released a discussion paper into its plan to phase out single-use plastics in the ACT in an effort to divert more plastic away from landfill.

The plan would see single use-plastic items including straws and stirrers, cutlery, disposable plates and cups, disposable coffee cups and lids, polystyrene food containers and light-weight fruit and vegetable bags banned.

Ainslie IGA's Manuel Xyrakis outside the store which has been part of the IGA chain since 1993.

Ainslie IGA's Manuel Xyrakis outside the store which has been part of the IGA chain since 1993.

However, plastics used for drink containers, food packaging, nappies and incontinence products, sanitary items and cotton buds would be excluded from the ban.

Ainslie IGA owner Manuel Xyrakis said the ban was a good step forward.

"One thing we're going to have to work out is to how to sell fruit and vegetables," Mr Xyrakis said.

"There are alternatives where people can buy nets to put their fruit and veggies into.

"There are some customers that use one plastic bag for one carrot or one onion, and that's very wasteful."

The supermarket owner said the ban would mean some items would have to be removed from the store's deli section.

"At the moment we supply plastic forks to customers when they buy hot food and the food goes in plastic containers," Mr Xyrakis said.

"I don't know what the alternative would be, but we have to look at the cost of it."

City Services Minister Chris Steel said the proposal would aim to reduce the impact single-use plastics have on the environment.

"Our society can no longer throw away responsibility for the plastics littering our environment," Mr Steel said.

"Single-use plastics litter our waterways, city parks and bush landscapes and goes into landfill where it may take hundreds or even thousands of years to break down."

Recycled materials at the recovery facility in Hume. Photo: Karleen Minney

Recycled materials at the recovery facility in Hume. Photo: Karleen Minney

It's estimated Australians use 7.8 billion plastic bags each year and more than 1 billion disposable coffee cups.

The owner of Campbell cafe Teddy Picker's, Caleb Evans, said the business was already reducing its single-use plastic items.

Customers have been encouraged to bring their own mugs or keep cups for their coffee instead of disposable cups, and have replaced plastic straws with metal ones.

"As a business we're looking to keep on the front foot and we need to take [environmental issues] seriously," Mr Evans said.

"We're in the middle of transitioning from plastic coffee cups to something better, but there's a lot of work to do."

The cafe owner said the government proposal would mean a big change for small businesses in Canberra.

"I'm not too worried about the changes. There will be a cost involved, but all the businesses will be kept to the same rules."

The discussion paper proposed phasing out the most unnecessary single-use plastics first, such as plastic cutlery, where alternatives are readily available, before moving away from other plastic items.

Mr Steel said alternatives to single-use plastics should be made more available in order to reduce waste.

City Services Minister Chris Steel, who has released a discussion paper on banning single-use plastics. Photo: Jamila Toderas

City Services Minister Chris Steel, who has released a discussion paper on banning single-use plastics. Photo: Jamila Toderas

"It is still commonplace to see takeaway shops continuing to use plastic-foam takeaway containers like it is still the 1980s," he said.

"Supermarkets also continue to sell plastic plates, cups and cutlery, where it seems like there are clear alternatives already being sold on their own shelves."

A spokesman for the Australian Food and Grocery Council said the organisation supported the initiative to reduce litter.

"To achieve these aims, we urge governments to ensure the community needs are considered and taken into account," the spokesman said.

Baz Kostanzo from the Gordon IGA said the idea was good on paper but needed further thought.

"People need time to be able to change their habits, it's a whole new way of thinking," he said.

"It's more complex than just getting rid of plastic. The secondary and tertiary issues around it need to be considered."

A spokesman for Woolworths said they would consider the proposal put forward in the discussion paper.

Coles declined to comment.

The ACT government previously banned single-use plastic bags in 2011, which resulted in a reduction of plastic bag use.

However, a recent review of the policy found the use of plastic bags were returning to pre-2011 levels, and a levy or floor price should be implemented for customers.

"The ACT government believes that we should consider phasing out or banning single-use products in the ACT, going beyond our existing ban on light-weight single-use plastic bags," Mr Steel said.

The move to ban single-use plastics comes as ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury is set to declare a "climate emergency" in the Legislative Assembly.

Mr Rattenbury will table the motion, calling on the government and opposition to urgently act on climate change.

"We must act now or the environmental, social and economic results of climate change will become increasingly perilous," Mr Rattenbury said.

"As the recent student climate strikers made clear, we must act as though our house is on fire, because it is."

Mr Steel said businesses would be consulted with in coming months to help minimise the impacts of a single-use plastics ban.

ACT residents, institutions and disability advocacy groups would also be consulted for the plan.

Some people with disabilities rely on plastic straws for food, with alternatives such as bamboo and metal straws often not meeting their needs.

"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," Mr Steel said.

"I welcome their contribution on how we can manage our environment while taking these issues into account."

The discussion paper is open for consultation until July.