Darwin’s single-use plastic ban creates confusion as markets trade and consumers dump as usual
Single-use plastics were still prevalent at markets over the weekend. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
Many single-use plastic items made their way to the bins at Darwin markets over the weekend, despite an official council ban coming into effect.
The City of Darwin voted in August to outlaw disposable items including straws, cups, food containers and helium balloons from events on council land in a bid to reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill.
Other cities, including Brisbane, have made similar commitments, and the changes took effect for Darwin council permits and leases on January 1.
But it was mostly business as usual at one of Darwin’s most popular markets on Saturday, with some stallholders left scratching their heads over how to implement the ban and how it would be enforced.
“There definitely is a little bit of uncertainty with changing over,” Parap Markets general manager Kylie McCourt told ABC Radio Darwin‘s Mikaela Simpson.
“The council have spoken with stallholders and said they can phase out what existing packaging they have.”
While a number of stores had made the switch, Ms McCourt said non-compliant vendors would be prevented from trading until they ditched the plastic.
“Some areas are very achievable and people may not even notice that, like [switching to] plant-based straws.”
The change has also proved a challenge to Darwin’s market-loving population, which flocks to eat and drink across a number of suburban markets every weekend.
On one wet season weekend last year, an audit found that thousands of coffee cups and pieces of plastic cutlery, as well as more than 30 kilograms of plastic food containers, were destined for landfill after a day’s trade.
Single-use plastics were still dumped in bins destined for landfill. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
Businesses struggle to find alternatives
Mark Hancock manages a popular juice stall, where customers queued to collect plastic-lined cups on the first day of trade under the ban.
He said he supported the ban and had introduced plant-based straws, but a lack of suitable alternatives for his cups — currently non-recyclable in Darwin — had left his trade in limbo.
“The straws, for instance, are triple [the cost], and the cups we’re unable to get, so at the moment we’re at a bit of a stalemate.
“We’ve tried [sourcing cups] out of Sydney and we have to get them refrigerated for freighting up here, which I find a bit extreme and quite expensive.”
Mr Hancock said while some customers continued to bring their own re-usable containers, many other plastic products had been dumped in bins.
At another market, finding suitable containers that withstood the heat of laksa proved a problem.
The council’s website now has guidelines about the switch, including preferred alternatives for stallholders and what consumers can do to reduce their reliance on single-use plastic.
However, bioplastics — substances made from organic sources — have to be processed at a commercial composting facility.
While the council does not currently have such a facility, it has just completed the tendering process to build one.
Council to focus on education, not enforcement
Polly Banks, the council’s general manager of community and regulatory services, estimated that 30 per cent of stalls were plastic-free.
She described that as a great result, and said the other 70 per cent would not face penalties yet.
“We won’t be taking an enforcement approach at this stage,” she said.
“We’re going to be spending the first year just really educating, working with market stallholders to encourage them to use up remaining stock and single-use plastics and embrace the alternatives.”
Will market-goers bring their own containers?
On social media there was a debate about whether the transition away from single-use plastics would complicate a simple, spontaneous trip to the markets.
Some people said packing their own reusable containers had long become second nature, while others said it required too much effort.
Dan: “My family of five have a market kit we take every week — plates, cups, bamboo straws (which are great) — and have had no issues at all after a year. Easy when you get into the habit.”
James: “There are alternatives to single-use plastic. The Malak marketplace runs just fine without single-use items.”
Anita: “This is awesome. It makes me so sad to look in the recycle bin at our local markets and see all sorts of rubbish. People have a choice of bin right in front of them that they choose not to use. Consumers need the choice to be made for them or it won’t happen at all.”
Sylvia: “Poor markets will lose heaps of tourists and customers; not yet thought through properly. Those in the know can [bring re-useable containers], but those from down south and overseas do not want to carry excess luggage around; fly in from Maningrida and you are only allowed 11kg luggage without bringing half the kitchen with them.”