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 plastics 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 products you already have. In the case of a food retailer, that means providing your customers with your own crockery and utensils.
In the case of takeaway, the best option is for food retailers to provide (or have customers provide) reusable plates, cups, utensils and containers.
For many food retailers, 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 retailers who provide takeaway 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 foodware, but usually downcycled into lower-value products.
Compostable options can be a viable alternative to traditional plastic, however the term 'compostable' can be misleading. Many products claim to be compostable, but are not certified under Australian Standards. Some are not 100% compostable. 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 where these products can be taken.
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 than plastic as they generally have a lower environmental footprint.
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 in accordance to their best use). 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.