Clean Living: 5 tips from Environment Minister Stephen Dawson for reducing single-use plastic

WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson
WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson

In the first of a four-part series providing Clean Living advice, the man largely responsible for our single-use plastic bag ban shares his habits for reducing his impact on the environment and explains what other plastics he wants banned.

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 Government’s 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 Mr Dawson 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, plastic bags and plastic straws, instead opting for paper straws for his three-and-a-half-year-old, and wants others to realise how relatively easily they can reduce their plastic footprint.

Five tips to cut single-use plastic at home:

  • Get yourself a reusable drink bottle and take it with you wherever you go. You’ll save money and the planet.
  • If you’re a tea or coffee drinker, get yourself a reusable cup. Some shops give you a discount just for having a reusable cup.
  • You don’t need to line your bin with a single-use plastic bag.
  • Avoid buying your fruit and vegies wrapped in plastic. They don’t need to be.
  • Vote with your feet and speak up. Tell the supermarket manager how you feel about their plastic practices and you want to see less single-use plastic in your local shops.

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 plastic 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 about the bag ban had come from people who ‘re-used’ 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.”

MORE: We answer your questions on the plastic bag ban

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.

“Plastic isn’t all bad, plastic has changed the world. It’s the single-use plastic that’s we need to move away from,” he said.

“What I’d like to see people do is take up the challenge of Plastic Free July and do what you can possibly do to decrease your plastic footprint, see how you can make a change in your daily life to have a positive impact on the environment.”