Less than 2% of waste plastic is currently recovered in Far North Queensland, compared to 5.7 % across Queensland and 9.5 % nationally. The remainder goes to landfill, so we’ve got plenty of room to improve!
Some good news is that there is a growing appetite for a commercial plastics hub in Far North Queensland, which would see our plastic waste being re-manufactured locally rather than trucked to Brisbane and then brought back as a new product.
A new feasibility study by the RPS Group for Regional Development Australia Tropical North shows that a plastics hub would annually divert 5400 tonnes of plastic from landfill, reduce emissions of C02 by 5000 tonnes, and bump up our recovery rate to 17%. The hub would create 83 full-time jobs during construction and six full-time jobs once it was up and running. As part of the study, a feasibility template is available and replicable by other regions that are facing similar challenges.
The problem with plastic
Half of the plastic items we buy are used once and thrown away. A lot of plastic becomes litter which is washed into our waterways. It causes harm when animals get tangled in or injured by litter, or mistake it for food. Plastics break up into smaller and smaller pieces and absorb toxic industrial chemicals which, when ingested by animals are absorbed into their tissues. Some microplastics are so small that we actually breathe them in—these are called nano or pico plastics.
It’s hard to know yet exactly what implication this has for humans. What we do know from studying other species is that contaminants from plastics can change their hormone levels and endocrine systems.
What can you do?
Plastic free doesn’t mean waste free. Reusable products are the best alternative to single-use disposable products, so BYO cups, cutlery, bottles and containers or join a reusable café cup program like Green Caffeen.
Some alternatives are better than others. Encourage businesses and food vendors to use alternative products that have the least impact on the environment, like 100 per cent home compostable products that are certified under Australian standards.
Stop extra plastic going to landfill with these easy actions:
- Say “no thanks” to extra packaging.
- Dine in instead of getting takeaway.
- Reduce pre-packaged goods by shopping at your local bulk food store or co-op.
- Recyle plastic bags and other soft plastics that can't go in your regular recycle bin at a Coles or Woolies near you.
The single-use plastic ban
Great news for our waterways and our region! From the 1 September, the supply of some types of single-use plastic is banned in Queensland.
- Straws: regular straws, flexible straws, straws with a scoop, cocktail straws and bubble tea straws.
- Cutlery: knives, forks, spoons, teaspoons, sample tasting spoons, soup spoons, chopsticks, splayds and sporks.
- Bowls and plates.
- Stirrers: hot or cold drink stirrers, swizzle sticks and hot or cold food stirrers.
- Expanded polystyrene takeaway food containers and cups, for example ‘clamshell’ style containers.
Last year there were 162 beach and waterway clean ups around the region. Almost 1000 volunteers were involved, and over seven tonnes of debris was removed. The most littered items were plastic remnants, plastic packaging items and plastic consumer items. With the ban now in effect, we hope to see far less single-use plastic items trashing the environment.
Additional single-use plastic items may be banned in the future, after further consultation. If you are a food or drink retailer in the Cairns or Port Douglas area you can access free, personalised support from Plastic Free Cairns. For those outside those areas, handy general resources are available at plasticfreecairns.org
Article first published in our Reef and Rivers magazine.
Photo courtesy of Tangaroa Blue