Cracking the plastic habit
The man largely responsible for our single-use plastic bag ban wants people to look closely at more of their plastic habits. Environment Minister Stephen Dawson tells reporter LISA THOMAS what he is doing to reduce his impact on the environment, and what
EVEN as a school-aged child in Ireland, Stephen Dawson found interest in the environment and joined groups to make a difference.
Several decades on, Mr Dawson is now WA’s Environment Minister and one of the most influential voices for the environment in WA.
His announcement last September to follow South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory and bring in a legislative ban against single-use plastic bags divided many across the state, but as the ban rolled out last week he maintained it was the right thing to do.
He said taking on the role as minister had opened his eyes to his own use of plastic and the personal role he could take in protecting the environment.
“I’m really alive to packaging, but I am particularly scandalised by plastic on fruits and vegetables,” Mr Dawson said. “It’s not necessary.” He also said he avoided buying plastic bottles, plasplastic tic bags and plastic straws, instead opting for paper straws for his three-and-ahalf-year-old, and wants others to realise how relatively easily they can reduce their plastic footprint.
On top of changing his plastic habits at home and implementing the bag ban, Mr Dawson said his next frontier was cutting plastic use by all government bureaucrats.
“I am working with the Department of Finance and the State Government to see how we can reduce the State Government’s use of things like plastic cups, plastic plates and knives and forks,” he said.
“Some of the different government departments use substantial amounts of things like plastic plates, so we’re looking at how we might reduce that number and how we might provide alternatives so government agencies can reduce their use as well.”
For the rest of us, Mr Dawson is already looking beyond the bag ban towards the next big change WA could make to reduce single-use plastic use.
“Parents have come to me and said they want to do better for the environment and their kids’ future,” he said.
“The European Union a couple of weeks ago put out a draft document that was based on 10 pieces of plastic most found on their coastline and included things like straws, stirrers, plates, cups and glass and they’re looking at bringing in a ban for those.
“We’re looking at that and what else we can do to reduce our single-use plastic use, so the Premier is keen and I’m doing this body of work right now.”
He said the biggest complaint abut the bag ban had come from people who ‘reused’ single-use plastic bags as bin liners.
“Use newspaper in your bin or don’t use anything,” Mr Dawson said.
“The sad reality is that at least seven million of those single-use plastic bags end up being littered and on our streets, parks and in our waterways and end up killing our animals.”
With controversy continuing over the rights of supermarkets to sell plastic bags after July 1, Mr Dawson reiterated the bag ban applied only to single-use bags less than 35 microns.
He called on all West Australians to embrace Plastic Free July.
Stephen Dawson: “Plastic isn’t all bad, plastic has changed the world. It’s single-use plastic that’s we need to move away from.”