Policy Focus – Local governments go plastic-free to reduce waste

Councils across Australia are making a concerted effort to go plastic-free to reduce the amount of waste before it enters the local government collection system.

In the wake of the recent Plastic Free July campaign, ALGA News is highlighting this key environmental issue and some best practice examples of local governments reducing single-use plastic.

Plastics can be made from either fossil fuels or renewable resources such as starch (sometimes labelled bioplastic or biodegradable plastic).

Plastic packaging also comes in large volumes and is a high-complexity, low-value material.  Unfortunately, Australia lacks effective sorting and processing facilities so reducing plastics is a priority, especially as Australia’s plastic use is forecast to double within three decades.

A recent Federal Government Australian Plastics Recycling survey found Australia’s national plastic recycling rate was 9.4%, with the remaining 90.6% either landfilled, burned or littered.  Other research shows disposable plastic items such as bags and cups have an average useful life of just 12 minutes.

ALGA has consistently advocated for mandatory product stewardship programs in Australia to share the responsibility of end-of-life products with manufacturers, retailers and consumers.  We want to see a greater focus on waste avoidance and minimisation at the design and production stages and on end-market development.

Many councils across Australia are embracing a plastic-free future.  See some of the innovative case studies:

  • Waverley Council in Sydney is collaborating with local business and food outlets to reduce excess plastic packaging. With funding from the NSW EPA, the council has conducted business waste and packaging audits, and invited businesses to forums to share their knowledge.
  • City of Yarra in Melbourne has rolled out a similar business engagement program by trialling the program with food businesses in North Fitzroy Village and successfully reduced their plastic packaging use by 1,750 items per week. They also have a commitment to phase out single-use plastic at council run facilities.
  • City of Rockingham in Perth has been turning the tide on plastics since 2019. It’s successful Turn the Tide on Plastics policy and guidelines has reduced the types of disposable items that can be used by traders, during events and in council operations.
  • Bega Valley Shire in southern NSW recently established a mug library and a borrow bag station. The library at Tura Beach allowed people to borrow mugs to use at the café across the road. They could grab a coffee (at a discounted rate), without the need for a takeaway cup, and then return it to the library.  The Council also stocked up on their borrow bag station, giving people access to reusable bags

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