State government also has polystyrene containers and cups in its sights, and more single-use items could follow.
South Australia will become the first Australian state to ban plastic straws, cutlery, and drink stirrers under a plan announced by the state government.
The SA environment minister, David Speirs, said on Saturday the Liberal government would draft legislation to ban the single-use items this year before introducing the bill to parliament in 2020.
Plastic straws, cutlery, and drink stirrers are first on the agenda, and the government is also looking to ban takeaway polystyrene containers and cups.
It is also considering outlawing items such as coffee cups and reusable plastic bags. South Australia was the first state to ban lightweight plastic bags in 2009.
“We led the way with our container-deposit scheme, we were ahead of the pack on plastic bag reform and now we will lead the country on single-use plastics,” Speirs told the Adelaide Advertiser.
“The community has called for swift action on single-use plastic products. Social and corporate action is already under way on some of these items, and there are readily [available] alternatives.”
As it drafts the new laws, the government will have to confront concerns held by disability advocates about an outright ban. People With Disability Australia says a ban would be “harmful” because “alternatives to plastic straws won’t work for people with disability”. Other governments that have outlawed straws have included an exemption for people with disabilities.
A report released on Saturday by the state’s Green Industries departmentsaid the new laws would “determine how to phase out [single-use straws] from the general community while carefully considering the needs of people with a disability”.
It said about 8m tonnes of plastic ended up in the ocean each year, describing this as “equivalent to dumping the contents of a garbage truck each minute”.
“… and if current trends continue, by 2050 there will be more plastics in the ocean than fish,” the report said.
The SA government will first trial what it has called voluntary “plastic free precincts”, which will be led by local business and help to craft the statewide ban.
With the exception of New South Wales, all Australian states have banned lightweight plastic bags. But the South Australian government has suggested it could also consider tightening regulations on heavier plastic bags, which have replaced single-use options at supermarkets.
California and Seattle have also introduced policies aimed at curbing the proliferation of single-use plastic straws, as have companies such as American Airlines and Starbucks.
Sarah Hanson-Young, a federal Greens senator from South Australia, praised the Liberal government for “listening to the people and moving beyond single-use plastics”.
“It’s well past time to act on this issue,” she said. “With the extinction crisis looming, we know reducing pollution is an important step.
“For too long, single-use plastics have been unregulated, choking our waterways, oceans, and beaches.”
Hanson-Young said the Greens would pursue a nationwide ban in the Senate in the coming months.