OUR POLICY ON SINGLE-USE PLASTIC & ALTERNATIVES
There is wide range of single use, disposable plastic items that should be avoided or replaced. As an initial step, we have identified a list of six priority plastic items that should be dealt with first. They are water bottles, coffee cups/lids, straws, takeaway containers, foodware (cutlery, cups, plates, lids, etc.) and plastic bags. These items particularly form a prolific and/or problematic part of the litter stream, and there are available alternatives to their use.
For this reason, we have based the program around the elimination of these key items.
The best option to avoid these items is always to use and reuse the products you already have, preferably non-plastic. In the case of a café or food vendor, that means providing your customers with your own crockery and utensils.
In the case of takeaway, the best option is to provide (or have your customers provide) reusable plates, cups, utensils and containers.
For many cafes and food vendors, the usual option for takeaway is to provide a range of disposable containers and utensils. In this case, food vendors should be encouraged to choose options that cause the least impact to the environment.
The conundrum - plastic free does not mean waste free
Many food vendors who provide takeaway beverages and meals use recyclable plastic containers, cups and utensils. However, many of these items are not actually recycled because they are not captured, or they are too small to be sorted at the recycling facility, or (particularly in the case of coffee cups) they are made of a paper composite with a plastic inner lining, making them difficult to recycle, and there is a lack of adequate collection services and facilities they can be taken to. Those few that are recycled are not re-made into new food ware, but usually downcycled into lower-value products.
Compostable options are a viable alternative to traditional plastic, however the term 'compostable' can be misleading. Some are not 100% compostable containing a mix of compostable and non-compostable materials. Additionally, the terms 'compostable' and 'biodegradable' are often used interchangeably and this can be misleading and confusing. Many that are 100% compostable require a commercial composting facility to be properly processed and do not readily break down under natural conditions. However, there are a lack of commercial composting facilities in Australia that these products can be taken to.
Currently, most takeaway items, whether recyclable or compostable, end up in landfill. Those that escape from landfill, or are littered, can persist in the environment and pose specific threats to wildlife. Because these items are usually used away from home and in public areas, they tend to be littered more frequently. In both cases, compostable items are deemed to be a better option as they generally have a lower environmental footprint, and many compostable items (eg paper/card, wood, palm, cane) will break down in the environment (unlike plastic, which breaks up but never goes away).
One outcome our program has identified is the urgent need for better collection services and commercial composting facilities for these products. The best option is a closed loop system that avoids littering and pollution and ensures any discarded items are taken to an appropriate facility and treated according to their Highest Resource Value (ie. reused/recycled/composted). Only where collection services and facilities to reprocess to Highest Resource Value are readily available and accessed can these practices be regarded as good practices.
In an ideal world we would only dine-in at cafes and restaurants or, if taking away, use reusable and returnable containers and utensils. Our position should always favour these options.
However, takeaway using disposable containers and utensils is now the norm and this needs to be recognised and addressed.
What we endorse:
The use of reusable crockery and utensils for the consumption of food and drinks at cafés, restaurants and food vendors (including at events) and by private persons in public places and functions.
The use of reusable and returnable food ware and containers for food and drink from cafés, restaurants and food vendors (including at events) and by private persons in public places and functions.
The prohibition of all polystyrene containers and foodware by cafés, restaurants and food vendors (including events) and their use by private persons in public places and functions. Polystyrene is toxic in the environment, is a regular litter item and is usually not recycled. In landfill, as in the environment, it persists and does not break down. The use of polystyrene cups, lids and containers of any kind must stop. Polystyrene can be easily replaced with better alternatives.
Banning some products in the take-away context for example, lightweight plastic bags, and thus BYO bags are used instead; or the use of refund schemes to maximise return of the item for recycling (eg PET, HDPE containers).
For single-use, our hierarchy is:
Use of items manufactured entirely from natural organic materials such as paper/card, wood or cane and certified to Australian Home Composting Standard AS5810. These should also be certified from sustainable sources.
Use of items that meet the AS 4736 Commercial Composting Standard. These are not preferred due to their propensity to act like a traditional plastic product unless commercially composted. It's use is only recommended in cases where the previous is not available or does not suit.
Oxo-degradable/biodegradable plastic products are NOT endorsed. Compostable/biodegradable/degradable plastic bags are NOT endorsed.
Ideally, above items that meet the standards for composting should only be used where there is a guarantee that they will be collected and delivered to an appropriate facility that produces high standard compost. Many of these products may also end up in landfill but there no conclusive evidence to date they will biodegrade adequately.