Sustainability in Practice

Single-Use Plastics Reduction

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.

Get involved

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).


To access free tools, head to Council's Sustainable Events web page or contact: for support.

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).

Council progress

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.
Queensland Government

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.

Cairns Regional Council is committed to embedding sustainability into its operations. As one of the largest organisations in the region there are significant opportunities to lead the way, with triple bottom line benefits for the environment, economy and community. Council's internal workplace sustainability initiatives include:

More detail on Council's sustainability performance and initiatives across the region (including natural areas management, water and waste, sustainability engagement, planning etc.) can be found in the annual State of Environment reports.

Energy and Emissions Management

Cities Power Partnership

In 2017 Council joined the Cities Power Partnership, a national pledge program led by The Climate Council to celebrate and accelerate the emission reduction and clean energy successes of Australian towns and cities.

Emissions Reduction Target and Renewable Energy

By 2020, Council aims to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 2007/08 levels. This ambitious target is on-track through landfill gas management, energy and fuel efficiency and renewable energy installations, with a tenfold increase in 2017, bringing Council's total solar capacity to one megawatt (enough to power 276 homes).

Energy and Emissions Monitoring

Council monitors energy use, costs and greenhouse gas emissions for its 500+ electricity accounts using a purpose built Energy and Emissions System. This includes electricity and fuel use, refrigerants and fugitive emissions from landfill and wastewater treatment. It is an important tool for identifying priorities and quantifying the on-ground benefits of investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives.

New Buildings and Renovations

Council has Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) to ensure new buildings and major renovations meet specific energy efficiency criteria. These MEPS are supported by Council's Sustainable Design Principles.

Energy Efficiency

Head Office: Council's Spence Street office consumed 24% less electricity in 2013/14 compared to 2010/11 due to a series of upgrades including a lighting retrofit, ultra-violet sterilisation of the air-conditioning system and fine-tuning of the air-conditioning set-points via an improved building management system.

Main Depot: Council's Martyn Street Depot consumed 19% less electricity in 2013/14 compared to 2010/11 due to a series of upgrades including a lighting retrofit and air-conditioning upgrades.

Fleet: With GPS monitoring enabling improved fleet management and over 20 hybrid vehicles, Council has reduced its fuel consumption by 32% in 2016/17 compared to 2013/14.


Council uses the two-bin system (one for waste, one for general recycling) throughout its offices and depots to keep consumables in the recycling loop.

Batteries, fluorescent lights, mobile phones, printer cartridges and some office consumables such as coffee pods and stationary are also recycled in house.

Waterway Health

Reef Guardian Council

Land-based runoff is a major pressure on the reef. In 2008, Council joined the Reef Guardian Council program coordinated by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to work with other councils on this issue. Since then, 13 councils from Bundaberg to Cooktown have joined the program.

Head to Council's Reef Guardian webpage to find out more about Council's work, including water quality monitoring and improvements, land use planning, storm water and erosion control, revegetation and community education.

Water Conservation

Council monitors its water consumption, uses recycled water on some of its facilities and has a specialised irrigation team to monitor and adapt water use in public spaces.

Staff Engagement

New Staff Inductions

All new Council staff receive a sustainability induction as part of their introduction to the Council workplace.

Workplace Giving Program

Council matches staff donations to raise over $10,000 each year for the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

Resource Efficiency

Focus areas include saving paper (52% paper reduction in 2013/14 compared to 2009/10), saving energy and workplace recycling.

Celebrating Sustainability

Each year Council recognises staff who have contributed to improved sustainability outcomes in their work area, through special projects or improved processes in the annual staff training and excellence awards.

Last updated: 21 December 2017