• Picture: Bo Eide.
    Picture: Bo Eide.

Hobart City Council has voted to become the first Australian city to completely ban single-use plastic packaging by 2020. PKN takes a closer look.

The council voted 8-4 to implement the bylaw targeted at businesses that sell takeaway food, meaning plastic straws, cutlery, containers, coffee cups and lids will need to be replaced by reusable or compostable alternatives.

PKN spoke to Hobart councillor Bill Harvey, who led the push in council. He said the community response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Councillor Bill Harvey, Hobart City Council.
Councillor Bill Harvey, Hobart City Council.

“We conducted a council survey, where three thousand people responded, and ninety-six per cent said they supported getting rid of single-use plastic packaging,” he said.

Harvey referred to plastic pollution around the world as an “ecological disaster”, with 28 per cent of seabirds around the world under threat.

“In Hobart we’ve had overwhelming support for getting rid of single use plastics because people understand it’s a threat to wildlife, and recent data from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies and CSIRO showed that of the dead birds sampled around the state, a third of the 1733 examined had plastics in their stomach.

“We are in the middle of a crisis that we have to solve, and the city of Hobart is taking decisive action with community support to get rid of some components of the plastic pollution that gets up in the ocean,” he said.

Disability groups have previously expressed concern about bans on plastic straws in particular, due to accessibility issues. According to Harvey, council is receptive to their concerns.

“We are consulting with disability groups, and there’s no issue with people with disabilities having access to plastic straws as required. Ideally they’ll have their own supply they can take with them,” he said. “Let’s focus on the big picture – billions of plastic straws are used across the world unnecessarily every day, and plastic straws are only one component of the plastic crisis.”

The Tasmanian Small Business Council has condemned the move, with CEO Robert Mallett calling it heavy-handed.

Robert Mallett, CEO, Tasmanian Small Business Council.
Robert Mallett, CEO, Tasmanian Small Business Council.

“The impact on a number of small businesses who use what’s falsely called single-use plastic packaging containers will mean them making less money for some time. While the concept of eco-friendly packaging and so on is good, I think governments, whether they’re local, state or federal, should learn not to use the big stick approach,” he told PKN.

“It’s a pity council didn’t think of this more strategically – they could have put this out in a more inclusive fashion to suggest they’d like to look to more eco-friendly containers and work with packaging suppliers to help businesses access these packaging options more easily and affordably.”

Mallett stressed that business was not against moving to greener packaging, but that more consultation was required.

“Nobody’s against the principle – it’s the execution that is disappointing and will harm small businesses,” he said. “The margins for takeaway shops are not huge, and given competition, they won’t be able to pass their prices onto consumers, so these additional costs would come out of their own pockets. That’s not good for the small business community or Tasmania as a whole.”

According to Harvey, however, small business owners were consulted beforehand.

“We spoke with 130 businesses in Hobart which were all in favour of getting rid of single-use plastic packaging,” he said. “This negative response is short-sighted.”

Hobart City Council has written to Tasmanian environment minister Elise Archer to request the implementation of a state-wide ban on single-use plastics.

“Ideally the state government will take the initiative with a statewide ban, but we’re not very hopeful that will occur, so councils need to take the initiative and show leadership on this issue,” said Harvey.

In a statement to PKN, Archer said the Tasmanian government did not support what she called a "sledgehammer approach" to managing the impact of single-use plastics.

Elise Archer MP, Tasmanian environment minister.
Elise Archer MP, Tasmanian minister for the environment.

"This proposed by-law which will ban these items will place a significant and immediate cost burden on many Hobart small businesses which will result in more costs being passed on to consumers.

"There are many other ways to manage waste and encourage recycling, but the Council’s sledgehammer approach is not the right way.

"I would encourage all businesses this affects as well as consumers to make their concerns known to the Council, including through the consultation process," she said.

The bylaw will now be put to Tasmania’s director of local government, then there will be a 21-day public consultation period before it is enacted.

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