A LETTER TO SOUTH AUSTRALIAN LEADERS ABOUT SINGLE-USE PLASTIC POLLUTION
South Australia is an incredibly clean place to live. In fact, most of our beautiful beaches are in great condition and the public is quite environmentally-minded. As I travel all over the world, I hear people raving about how clean our beautiful state is. South Australia was the first state to bring in the regulatory measures that meant cans and bottles would receive a 5c (now 10c) refund when returned to the recycling depot. Our garbage bins are segregated into greens, landfill and recyclables and many households have installed solar panels. On any given weekend you could choose from multiple clean-ups, which are organized weekly by more than ten different non-profit organizations. But are we doing enough?
These successes were reiterated recently in discussion paper created by the State Government about the impact of single-use plastic on our environment and what the public opinion is. The premise of the discussion paper was to generate momentum and discussion among the public to enable our Environment Minister and parliament to change the single-use plastic landscape in South Australia. One of the questions suggested for readers was:
“Do you think single-use plastics are impacting our environment?’
I found myself thinking, this isn’t a question a leader asks. This is a question you get asked by someone stalling on an issue we all know is negatively impacting the environment.
The paper highlighted a number of statistics regarding single-use plastics and recognized the key stakeholders who may be impacted by any changes to the current regulatory landscape. There were great elements to the paper but I was left with an overwhelming feeling of being underwhelmed. No less than eight times, the paper mentioned that South Australia was a leader in environmental policy regarding recycling and plastic pollution.
There are many areas that South Australia might think of itself as a leader. A leader on the national stage and maybe if it is feeling ambitious it might claim to be globally competitive. However, these achievements are laurels rested upon only by those who lack vision. In fact, the people who are resting on these achievements are holding us back from continuing to lead. You see, leaders don’t have to stop and tell the world about their success story. They are constantly writing the next chapter while the rest of the world waits eagerly for the next inspiring story. A good author doesn’t sit around telling you about how good their first book was, they are busy shipping out the sequel.
When a leader spends the majority of their time looking back on the past, they are failing to lead us towards the future. Our leaders are our elected officials. Our politicians are our voice and they are employed to represent the best interest of our people and their future.
South Australia is a state often labeled as one of the most liveable in the world. And I have to agree it is a bloody awesome place to live. We are so lucky to call SA home. Residents in this great state enjoy an incredibly high standard of living in global comparison. Travel the world and you will rarely think to yourself, ‘Well this is much better than what we have going on at home.”
However, just recently we saw developing-world vacation hotspot Bali announced it will ban single-use plastic within 6 months. New Zealand announced plans to make all fruit and vegetable packaging in supermarkets bio-degradable rather than wrapping everything in single-use plastic and Costa Rica became the first country to become carbon neutral.
So, given our incredibly high standard of living, how does South Australia compare to the rest of the world on the topic of single-use plastic.
1. South Australia is yet to ban single-use plastics such as plastic cutlery, plastic straws, single-use plastic cups, plastic coffee stirrers, and other similar single-use basics. Do a bit of cafe hopping on a lazy Sunday and try not to receive a piece of single-use plastic in store.
2. South Australia has signaled no action on wrapping fruit and vegetable in plastic in grocery stores. Before mentioning any of the proposed 2025 plans, remind yourself that this is six years away and there will be almost no accountability given that some of the politicians campaigning for this may not even be around in six years. So for the purpose of what is actually happening now, I am disregarding those ‘plans’ when considering small measures like single-use plastics. 2025 should be a target for a transition to clean energy and other larger measures. We don’t need 6 years to transition to a ban on shelving our tomatoes on a Styrofoam tray then wrapping them in plastic.
3. South Australia still allows businesses to serve plastic smoothie and drink containers when customers dine in. Single-use plastic serves a purpose when ordering takeaway (still not acceptable -and there are alternatives- but it is serving a purpose) Why can we not have a regular plate, cutlery, and cup when we are dining in. We are seeing that if this is not regulated, the industry isn’t forward-thinking or responsible enough to take it upon themselves to take action. Introducing new laws and regulations is required. Even ‘progressive’ cafe’s like Argo on the Parade refuse to address this issue. I only mention them in this article because they refused to answer any of my messages on social media about the issue. Great food, but you guys aren’t leading the way in the fight against single-use plastic.
4. South Australia is yet to put the responsibility onto the business owners and the hospitality industry. South Australians shouldn’t have to carry around metal straws and straw cleaners, keep-me cups, their own bamboo cutlery, re-usable plants, re-usable smoothie cups. It isn’t practical and only the hard-core environmentalists are willing to do so. Power to the people who are, because they are setting the trend, but we need to account for the masses who aren’t willing to adopt this lifestyle change. We need to account for the majority of SA residents who currently prioritize convenience over the environment because that is how the system is set up.
David Speirs (pictured above) is the current Environment Minister and I genuinely think he seems like a good guy. After speaking to him through Instagram (credit to him for being available and on social media), we exchanged emails about single-use plastics, my Adventure Bag movement, and this very discussion paper. Once again credit to him for engaging with me through e-mail. He then came out to an Adventure Bag crew clean-up. He genuinely seems ready for the fight we have on our hands and I’m willing to back him to get the job done. This article isn’t putting the blame on a Minister, an organization or our state. This article is about South Aussies wanting to be leaders and we want to be leaders now.
Through these exchanges, I wanted to find out what I didn’t already know. I already knew that single-use plastics were impacting our environment. I had access to a man who is trying to pull the strings on our South Aussie Environment. Unlike this discussion paper, I wanted to ask questions that are harder to answer.
My main line of questioning to David was,
‘Why are we still waiting if we are leaders?”
I wanted to know, if South Australia is a leader in environmental policy, why are we falling behind the rest of the world as it swiftly bans single-use plastics? (Not always a blanket ban but towns, provinces, regions, and countries are one-by-one making significant changes that we are still waiting for in SA). Being a leader doesn’t mean looking across the border to Victoria and comparing our 5/10 with their 3/10. It means looking globally and putting policies into practice that have been proven in similar cities around the world.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some examples:
Seattle: Most of us would compare the American city of Seattle on par in many aspects to South Australia. Consumerism is high, the pace of life is quick with a need for practicality and convenience and, living standard is relatively high. Seattle banned all plastic cutlery, straws, and utensils last year. The link to that law on their official page is here. This isn’t a one off.
Rwanda: First plastic-free nation. At the border, your car is searched and if you have any plastic it will be taken away and you can be fined.
Taiwan: Introduced a ban on plastic straws, bags, cutlery and utensils in February 2018.
The list genuinely goes on and on. So if South Australia is a leader when it comes to single-use plastic pollution, then why are we not showing up on these lists and articles about the most progressive nations and regions when it comes to policy? The truth may be tough to handle and it is conveniently left out of the discussion papers created by the SA Government.
I requested to know who was blocking new laws addressing these four VERY simple issues I have outlined above. These four issues are the tip of the iceberg on environmental reform but I personally believe it is best to start small and get the ball rolling. Inspire people with positive results and then when you have everyone on your team, it makes the big changes in the future easier to pass through parliament.
I expected MP David Speirs to tell me that the hospitality industry was a big road-block. I thought maybe the hospitality industry thought to change plastic to bamboo or washing their glasses instead of serving plastic would turn the dining experience on its head. What I found was that the hospitality industry wasn’t considered an obstacle at all.
I thought maybe the disruption to the plastic production companies could be an issue but in fact, they are the most likely to produce the alternate products.
So, what is causing the delay? According to MP David Speirs, there is a minimal objection to single-use plastics reform from all of the different stakeholders. Proposing and passing the law through parliament is the only hold-up. The issue then becomes a matter of priorities and the lack of leadership from our political leaders to put emphasis on acting on this issue quickly and making South Australia a leader once again.
We then ask ourselves why should we wait till 2020 or even, dare I mention it, 2025 for significant legislation.
I’m calling for action in 2019 because leaders are destined to lead and anything beyond 2019 will be a failure. A failure for our state and a failure for the environment. In fact, it could be argued that by falling behind many other nations and regions in the world, our current policy is already a failure. The good news is, with the right policy implementation, we can quickly become a leader for single-use plastic policy. South Australians will undoubtedly support these measures.
I’m calling for the following laws to be passed and enforced by the end of 2019 at the VERY latest. I’m not a politician and I understand a good idea takes time to become a law and officially pass through parliament. But do we need 12 months to pass a law that has supposedly no opposition?
The six laws we need in 2019 ( The bare minimum)
- Plastic knives, forks, and spoons are banned statewide.
- Plastic straws are banned statewide.
- Plastic cups are banned statewide.
- Customers are required to ask for cutlery, napkins or other utensils. Alternatively, it can be provided for customers to pick-up themselves from the counter rather than businesses assuming the customer needs them. This law is also statewide.
- No plastic to wrap vegetables and fruit at the grocery store.
- Paper bags (or bio-degradable alternative) are used to collect vegetables and fruit at the grocery store.
It’s time to put the responsibility on industries rather than the customer. Not one of these changes requires cafes, restaurants or grocery stores to change the product they serve or provide. It purely alters the packaging in which it is delivered.
Alternatives such as metals, bamboo, and even biodegradable plastic are readily available to all the fill the welcome void of single-use plastic. We aren’t asking the grocery stores or cafes to reinvent the wheel. We are asking them to be a leader. We are asking South Australia to be a ferocious leader and make South Aussies proud.
Jackson Groves on behalf of the Adventure Bag Crew