Council recognises that the avoidance of single-use plastics is an effective way to reduce unnecessary landfill and the impacts of litter in the land and sea environment.
Businesses and the broader community are encouraged to #choosetoreuse where possible or to opt for environmentally responsible packaging, with support from the following initiatives:
Plastic Free July
Individuals, schools and businesses can also join the Plastic Free July, a global challenge to reduce single-use plastics. Participants choose the habits they wish to cultivate in the month, selecting the top four items (plastic bags, straws, bottles and coffee cups) or aiming to avoid single-use plastics altogether. The challenge provides options to get started and has an extensive guide to living single-use plastic free on their website.
Plastic Free Cairns
Plastic Free Cairns works directly with food retailers in identified precincts and assists them to switch from single-use plastics to better alternatives. Members receive tailored advice for their business and can access benefits including product discounts, promotional opportunities, free resources and can work towards certification.
Council is a Founding Partner of Plastic Free Cairns and encourages the community to support member businesses.
Delivered by Boomerang Alliance, with funding from the Queensland Government, Cairns is the fifth community in the Plastic Free Places program (which has removed over 5 million pieces of plastic from circulation, as of February 29, 2020).
The problem with single-use plastics
Plastics never 'go away' but rather break up into smaller pieces that can remain in the environment for hundreds of years.
Single-use plastic items are generally used for minutes, mostly made from non-renewable fossil fuels and often produced in faraway locations. This represents a high amount of energy input for little return to local communities and the environment.
Even after all waste recovery processes, it is estimated that 40% of Cairns’ remnant waste is plastics.
Single-use plastics are also the most littered items found in Cairns and present risks to wildlife including entanglement and sickness or death when animals consume the plastics. They can alter on-shore environments (such as nesting areas or soil composition), as well as underwater environments (affecting coral health).
Prompted by home-grown campaigns, Straw No More & The Last Straw on the Great Barrier Reef, in April 2018 Council resolved to remove single-use plastics from its operations and transition its functions and events to reusable or compostable alternatives. Since then, Council has:
- Introduced single-use plastic free conditions for stallholders for Council-run venue hire, events and markets.
- Successfully trialled large scale dish re-use systems and a 'water cafe' at major events - the Cairns ECOfiesta and Cairns Children's Festival
- Successfully called on Local Government Association Queensland to produce a state-wide program to phase out single-use plastics from council operations and events and to help support local communities and industry to transition away from these items.
- Delivered education for packaging suppliers, businesses and the community.
- Provided funding for local community-led plastics avoidance initiatives and provides tools for local events.
- Amended catering practices, reviewed stocked items (including switching to commercially compostable dog waste bags) and delivered staff education.
To find out more on the plan for long term change in the wider plastics supply chain, refer to the Queensland Government's Plastic Pollution Reduction Plan.