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Disabilities community's fury over single-plastic ban

Wednesday, 10th July 2019 at 5:41 pm
Maggie Coggan
For people with disability who struggle to eat or drink with their hands, a plastic straw is a life saver.  

Wednesday, 10th July 2019
at 5:41 pm
Maggie Coggan



Disabilities community's fury over single-plastic ban
Wednesday, 10th July 2019 at 5:41 pm

For people with disability who struggle to eat or drink with their hands, a plastic straw is a life saver.  

But on Saturday, the South Australian government proposed a state-wide ban of single-use plastic products, with straws, cutlery, and stirrers first on the hit-list. 

The legislation would be an Australian first and is part of a global movement to reduce single-use plastic items that frequently end up in oceans and waterways, harming marine life and environments.

In recent months, the European Union voted overwhelmingly for a continent-wide ban on single-use plastics.  

Samantha French, a senior policy officer at People With Disability Australia, told Pro Bono News that while the disability community was incredibly supportive of taking action on plastic waste, a blanket ban of products like straws would impact the quality of life for people with disability.  

“People with disability are equally concerned about environmental issues and the impact plastics make… but we need to consider the unintended consequences that a total ban would have on people with disabilities,” French said. 

“It really impacts on people being able to go out in public, drink in public, socialise, and participate in public life and in the community.” 

She said for many people who were unable to drink without a straw, plastic was the only safe material. 

“We acknowledge there are alternatives like bamboo, silicon, paper, and metal, but if because of the person’s disability they bite down unintentionally, biting down on a glass, bamboo or metal straw could cause serious harm,” French said. 

She said the alternatives could also present as a choking hazard, or be unusable due to the material’s rigidity. 

A report by government agency Green Industries SA acknowledged community feedback had raised the straw ban as an issue for people with a disability and said the needs of the community would be considered, but it did not elaborate any further.   

French said that people with disability were used to being innovative and adaptive, and could help come up with a solution to the problem. 

“We know best what our needs are. It’s about taking a multifaceted approach, and working collaboratively with people with disability,” she said. 

She added that if the use of plastic straws was limited to people who actually needed them, the environmental impacts of the straws would still be less than they currently were.

“Limiting the use of plastic products to the greatest degree possible, whilst continuing to allow them to be available as a necessary tool for people with disabilities to drink safely in a dignified way isn’t unreasonable,” she said. 

As reported by the ABC, SA Environment Minister David Speirs has responded to these concerns and said the government had spoken at length with the disability community about the issue. 

He said the ban would be implemented quickly, but not before the community was consulted.  

Items such as takeaway polystyrene containers and cups will be considered after the initial ban, with further consideration given to takeaway coffee cups, plastic bags, and other takeaway food items.  

“We will release draft legislation for further public consultation later this year with the intention to introduce it to the Parliament in 2020,” Speirs said. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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