The problem with the 'Choose to Reuse' call is that while it is important that we all take action on reusables, we are not going to change general population habits simply through a focus on ad hoc action. What is needed are the systems that create behaviour change. In the 1980's household could take their papers, bottles and cans to a local depot for recycling. An estimated 5% of households did this. When local councils introduced a kerbside collection service, firstly with a small crate and then a wheelie bin, an estimated 70-80% of households started to recycle.
We want to make reusables mainstream. Rather than working on all things reusable, our focus is on the most obvious items first. As we reported in our last December 2022 newsletter the Boomerang Alliance and our allies published two papers in 2022 to promote reusable shopping bag standards and reusable coffee cups. We now are adding a third focus - to ban the use of disposable foodware for dine-in at cafes and food outlets.
The system we are promoting for reusable shopping bags will mean that only reusable shopping bags that have passed a standards test will be available to consumers. Since we published our paper, a growing number of governments are turning their attention to getting rid of heavyweight plastic bags. Western Australia has already acted, Queensland are planning to do so in September this year and we expect similar actions from South Australia, the ACT and NT in 2024.
We are including the heavyweight plastic bags that many retailers sell for 15-25 cents and the dodgy plastic bags that are only slightly thicker than the lightweight ban of 35mcrns. We want these phased-out. Woolworths have already announced they will ban their heavyweight plastic bags, with 'reusable' bags or paper bags provided instead. Paper bags are not the answer but are preferable for one-off purchases. This leaves 'reusable' plastic bags. Our proposed standard, developed with the National Retailers Association, is based on an international standard that requires a bag to be designed for at least 125 shopping cycles, with a maximum weight capacity and minimum thickness and recycled content. This will mean that customers will be getting the genuine article, not pretend 'reusable' bags that are just a bit thicker than other plastic bags.
Disposable coffee cups and lids are the next big items for attention. Most of these products, when used in public places end up in landfill or as litter. And we use an estimated 1.8 billion of them every year in Australia. How do we make the move?
The Boomerang Alliance has proposed a staged approach. This would start with a ban on plastic-lined cups and lids in 2024. These are just a waste and litter problem and rarely get recovered. As a transition certified compostable cups and lids (including commercially compostable) would be allowed until 2026. This is because there are no disposable non-plastic cups acceptable to the market as yet. When they are, the exemption for commercially compostable cups can be removed. Finally we would like all disposable cups and lids phased out after 2030.
The ban on disposable cups is a big ask. It could be achieved if reusable cups are more commonplace. To help do this, our strategy calls for regulations that require all cafes and takeaway food outlets to offer or sell reusable cups and lids, as well as their disposable ones. This is already happening in Germany. In addition a levy would be imposed on all disposable cups. We think the combination of access to reusable cups and a levy on disposable cups will change habits.
To date most governments have been supportive of reusables and BYO coffee cups, but have done little to mainstream the behaviour. This is now changing. The WA, SA, NSW and QLD Governments have asked the Boomerang Alliance, through our Plastic Free Places program, to develop practical case studies for reusable cups and lids. We have begun this task.
One of the big gripes many of you told us, is disposable packaging at dine-in cafes. We recently took this shot in Melbourne outside of a Starbucks. Whilst Starbucks promotes and sells reusable cups and mugs, it doesn't seem to practice what it preaches. When ordering we asked for reusable cups but still got disposables. This is a common experience. The French recently introduced a ban and many other European countries will do the same.