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Plastic Free Places

The Cairns and Douglas regions have joined a national program to reduce the use of single use plastic items by food retailers, and it’s getting results.

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Over 2 million single use plastic items elimated by 170 businesses so far

The world produces over 400 million tonnes of plastic every year – and about 14 million tonnes of it ends up in waterways. Ocean plastic pollution has ballooned in the past two decades, and without urgent action it’s expected to triple by 2060.

Globally, only nine per cent of plastic waste is recycled. While we need to improve our recycling in Australia, the best solution is still to stop using plastics.

The ‘Plastic Free Places’ program was first piloted in Noosa in 2017. It’s the brainchild of Boomerang Alliance, a national not-for-profit organisation that advocates for a zero-waste society and for legislative change to deal with Australia’s excessive plastic packaging and waste.

Plastic Free Cairns began in February 2020 through funding from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science as part of its Queensland Plastic Pollution Reduction Plan. Douglas Shire came on board in July 2021, funded through the Australian Government’s National Action Plan for Plastics. So far, more than 170 businesses have been part of these initiatives, with over 40 businesses reaching ‘Plastic Free Champion’ status by eliminating single use plastics across six categories. These are straws, coffee cups and lids, takeaway containers and lids, food ware including cutlery, plates and cups, water bottles and bags – all of them items the Queensland Government is seeking to ban as part of its 5-year road map.

Monica Regan, Plastic Free Cairns & Douglas Coordinator, says the program includes coaching for businesses on reuse solutions from changing customers’ coffee cup habits to introducing reuse, borrow and swap systems and building a network of refill stations for water bottles.

“We are here to support any business that is interested in finding, trialling and implementing less waste and new reusable systems that create circular economy outcomes. In addition to our Reusable Café Program, we will soon be introducing Reusable Hotels and Workplace programs as well as an Australian-first pilot of a Reusable Community project in Port Douglas, which aims to bridge the gap between the café, tourism and hotel sectors through three reusable items: the coffee cup, bag and water bottle.”

Since the program began, Cairns and Douglas communities have eliminated almost 2 million single-use plastic items.

To learn more about Plastic Free Places, visit

  • 77 Australian marine species are impacted by marine debris.
  • Over 70% of turtles found dead in Queensland waters have ingested plastic.
  • Over 75% of rubbish removed from Australian beaches is plastic.
  • Half of all plastic produced is designed to only be used once.
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a 620,000 square mile swirl of plastic pollution) is so large that it is creating floating ecosystems of coastal species that would not normally be able to survive in the open ocean.

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