About us

Who is the organisation behind the Plastic Free Places program?

The organisation behind the Plastic Free Places program is Boomerang Alliance, a not-for-profit organisation comprised of 52 allied groups with a common goal to reduce marine pollution and move towards a zero-waste society. For more details, click here.

Where does your funding come from?

Boomerang Alliance: Is externally funded through private donors interested in seeing action to reduce plastic waste. PFP Program is funded through: Commonwealth (Plastic Free Beaches communities) State Governments Local Councils (smaller trial projects)

Are you affiliated with, or do you receive kickbacks from, any company or organisation?

We are a completely independent not-for-profit organisation that receives no kickbacks from any company. When we recommend a brand or product, it is based on merit according to our hierarchy of recommendations (find this on our Policy Page).

Why aren’t you focusing on the big companies instead of small businesses?

In fact we do work with larger companies! But working with these companies requires us to approach head offices, which are generally not located in the communities our programs work in. We do this work in addition to our community programs.

Where are Plastic Free Communities currently located?

As of October 2021, Plastic Free Places is active in Adelaide, Cairns, Townsville, Central Queensland (Rockhampton), Randwick (Sydney), Mornington Peninsula (Vic) and Perth. You can always find our current projects on our website, on the main menu under 'Our Projects'

What’s the point if there are much bigger polluters in the world?

There are organisations working on those bigger polluters right now - and laws are being passed to pull them into line. Even the big polluters are starting to change their practices. Organisations such as the Boomerang Alliance are made up of dozens of independent organisations approaching the pollution issue at different levels and from different angles. When it becomes normal in society to care about the waste we produce and the impacts on our world, individuals start to demand better practices. Food retail packaging waste is visible, plentiful and easy to change.

Plastic & alternatives

What's difference between cheaper alternative items and the more expensive versions from reputable brands?

Unless a product carries with it recognised certifications or standards, then we suggest to err on the side of caution. There are plenty of products claiming to be ‘eco’, however much of this is ‘ greenwashing For paper based products we recommend asking your supplier if they carry the Australian Home Compost certification AS 5810, noting that there are some items like straws that currently do not carry this certification. It is also important to check if the product has a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification, which guarantees that the paper has been sourced from responsibly managed forests. Cheap paper items can also be held together with toxic glues and coloured with chemical based dyes, furthering the reason to buy certified and likely more expensive options. We also find that you get what you pay for, lower quality products tend to not perform as well. For e.g. lower quality straws can go soggy and fall apart in drinks.

My customers do not like paper straws as they go soggy in drinks, is there anything else I can use?

Paper straw quality has increased significantly over the past few years, if you choose the cheapest possible option these are likely to go soggy in drinks. When it comes to paper straws, you get what you pay for and buying from reputable suppliers will ensure higher quality. The other alternative is to offer reusable straws such as metal, silicone, bamboo or glass. You can also consider wheat, rye or pasta straws.

If I order a product from a reputable brand will I automatically receive a compostable alternative?

No - even reputable brands still stock plastic single-use items. It is therefore very important to be clear with your supplier that you are wanting to order the certified compostable version of a specific product. For example, we often see business owners ordering certified compostable coffee cups and by default believing they will receive matching compostable lids. This is not always the case, they are often sent standard plastic lids instead.

Which reusable cup uses the least energy from cradle to grave?

This is the most recent study on this topic. To sum it up: Ceramic cups/mugs need to be used at least 39 times to equal the energy produced to make a paper cup. Plastic reusable cups need to be used 17 times and glass cups need to be used 15 times. Metal was not analysed in this study. If you look after your reusables and keep them forever - they are better for the environment.

The price difference between compostable and plastic is high. How can we make it more sustainable?

The most effective way to bring down your packaging costs is to reduce the amount you are using. For example, instead of putting a straw in every drink, only give them out on request; remove stations in your business where customers can help themselves to single-use items; place a surcharge on single- use items such as coffee cups and bags; opt for reusables in place of anything single-use - whilst your initial overheads will be higher you will save money in the long run. For more information, see our blog ‘ Go plastic-free and save money.

What is the difference between ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’?

If something is biodegradable, then given the right conditions and presence of the right microorganisms, it can eventually break down to its basic components. However, the term implies no timeframe or guarantee that it will break down completely, nor whether toxic residues are left behind. The ambiguity of the term ‘biodegradable’ means it is not a good measure of whether something is really capable of breaking down. If something is compostable, it is capable of breaking down into natural elements in a compost environment, under specified conditions and time scales, without leaving toxic residues. There are a number of different standards of compostability (e.g. the Australian, American and European standards) for which the timeframes for breakdown range from 90 days - 6 months.

Are compostable items recyclable?

It depends on the material type. Paper, bagasse and unlined cardboard are able to go in the paper recycling stream, though they are often too contaminated with food residues. Compostable bioplastics are technically recyclable, but the facilities in Australia are not widely available to accept them for recycling. Items made with bioplastic also act differently in the recycling stream to non-compostable plastics and therefore cannot be recycled using standard plastic recycling procedures. They are designed to be composted, not recycled. The issue with takeaway foodware consumed away from home is the contamination with food residues, which renders them not recyclable. Compostable foodware is able to be composted along with foodware, making it a better choice for takeaway packaging.

How should used compostable items be disposed of?

The correct disposal of compostable items is dependent on a number of factors. Namely, the material in which the item is made from i.e. paper based, composite with bioplastic and paper or bioplastic , it’s compost certifications, and the location (as this determines waste service availability). Home compostable items are the simplest compostable items in the waste stream, they can be disposed of in your home compost bin or a businesses/residential kerbside organics bin. If neither of these options are available, then a soiled paper based item must enter landfill, they are not recyclable if contaminated with food residues. Items certified as commercially compostable can enter a kerbside organics bin if you are located in a municipal area that has access to a commercial composting facility who accepts these items. There are many council areas throughout Australia that provide a green organics bin but do not allow for commercially compostable items, in this case these items must enter landfill.

If unsure of the correct disposal of an item, which bin should it enter?

If in doubt, landfill. The disposal of items into the incorrect waste stream is highly detrimental to recycling and composting efficiencies. Incorrect items contaminate these circular waste streams and result in an increased load being sent to landfill.

Why are you still promoting single-use items when they will probably end up in landfill anyway?

We have a Alternative Products Hierarchy (on our Policy Page), with avoidance of single-use items being best, then reusable items for dine-in and takeaway, and, knowing that single-use is not going to disappear just yet, certified compostable items next on the hierarchy. Even if there is no commercial composting facility in the area, there are fewer fossil fuels used in the manufacture of these products and it creates demand for a commercial composting facility. This can be provided by local councils, or opens up opportunities for an independent waste management company. In addition, if these items are littered they will eventually break down to non-toxic components rather than breaking up into microplastics.

What if there is no commercial composting facility in my area?

Fistly - check if there are facilities through the compost connect website. If there is no commercial composting in your area, focus on composting home-compostable food scraps and materials, or donating them to a community garden, school garden or gardening individual who would appreciate them very much. Look at switching to home-compostable options as much as possible. The ShareWaste initiative is a great idea, connecting people with compostable scraps to people with compost bins, worm farms and chickens. If you have no choice, educate your customers or friends that these items need to go in the landfill bin until a commercial composting facility is built. The next step is to contact your local council, and encourage any other concerned person to contact them also, to show demand for this type of facility. It’s a growing, profitable industry that recovers materials valuable to farmers, eliminates waste and helps the earth. See this AORA flyer for more information.

Plastic legislation

You want to ban straws. Some disabled people need straws. What will they do?

All single-use plastic bans include provisions and exemptions for people that require plastic straws for healthcare needs.

Is there a plastic ban in my state?

Currently (as of Nov 2021) there are active plastic bans in place in Qld, ACT and SA. WA, Vic and NSW have made commitments to implement plastic bans in the coming years. Tas and the NT have currently made no commitments to implement bans.

How can I check if my takeaway item is compliant with state legislation?

It is recommended to check the resources available on the National Retailers Association website which provide details relevant to each State and Territory. If your business is located within one of our communities you can also reach out to us and we will guide you through any compliance issues.

Food safety

Are there any laws /regulations stopping me from accepting customers BYO cups or containers?

There are no legislative requirements preventing customers from using their own containers. We emphasise that none of the State Government Acts nor the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code 2003 (the Code) specify any legislative requirements that would prevent a business from using a container provided by a customer to store or package food purchased Since the beginning of the pandemic, regulations surrounding reusables have differed between states. On the whole, their use has been allowed despite the widespread belief of the contrary. The State and health guidance surrounding reusables is constantly changing but keep in mind that the majority of cafes which placed bans on their use did so without the guidance of any regulatory body. We recommend checking the Health Authority for your state on current advice around accepting reusables during CovId.

We don’t trust reusables in our business. Do we have to accept them?

It's your business, it is entirely up to you what you will accept. There is no requirement that says you need to accept them. If you're still deciding whether you should accept clean reusable cups or containers, consider this statement released by over 100 scientists globally (including epidemiologists, virologists, biologists, chemists and doctors) that stated that, based on the best available science and guidance from public health professionals, reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene. Here are the laws and regulations around BYO containers. The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, Section 3.2.2 - Food Safety Practices and General Requirements refers to the safe packaging of food products as well as appropriate cleaning and sanitising of specific equipment. Clauses 9 and 20 are relevant for accepting BYO containers. Clause 9: Food packaging A food business must, when packaging food – (a) only use packaging material that is fit for its intended use; (b) only use material that is not likely to cause food contamination; and (c) ensure that there is no likelihood that the food may become contaminated during the packaging process. Businesses should consider suitability before accepting a BYO container. For example, do not accept containers that are broken or damaged as this can allow for contaminants to enter. Clause 20: Cleaning and sanitising of specific equipment (1) A food business must ensure the following equipment is in a clean and sanitary condition in the circumstances set out below – (a) eating and drinking utensils - immediately before each use; and (b) the food contact surfaces of equipment - whenever food that will come into contact with the surface is likely to be contaminated. To handle the situation where you are not satisfied that a food container is clean and sanitary, see our advice in the next question.

What is a ‘contactless pour’?

A ‘contactless pour’ is a method for reusable cups involving the barista extracting the coffee into their own receptacle and pouring the shot into the reusable cup set on a bench, which is then filled up with steamed milk - all without touching the cup.
You can see a video on how to do this in our guide ‘Using reusables for takeaway during COVID-19

If a reusable cup is presented to me dirty, do I have to use it or should I refuse it?

You don't have to accept it (see the previous question for a rundown on regulations around this). Some stores will turn away these customers, stating "We can't serve our coffee in a cup like that" or "We want to maintain a consistent taste with our product so we can't use that cup". We suggest that instead of turning away a potentially loyal customer you can approach it in the following ways: - Here, let us wash your cup for you (hand wash) - Have a few spare cups available (why not branded ones) to swap with their cup and swap back on their next visit.

Does food have to be individually packaged or covered, for e.g., premade food like muffins or sandwiches?

Referring to The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, Section 3.2.2 - Food Safety Practices and General Requirements, Clause 6 - Food Storage: A food business must, when storing food, store the food in such a way that: a. it is protected from the likelihood of contamination; and b. the environmental conditions under which it's stored won't adversely affect the safety & suitability of the food. This means that food vendors can find ways to sell their food without pre-packaging it or wrapping it in plastic wrap. This can be achieved in several ways, including, but not limited to: 1. Individually packaging the food 2. Storing the food in a display cabinet in reusable containers

For businesses

How do I sign my businesses up as a member?

A business can join any one of our Plastic Free Places communities- if located in one - or if not, our service can be accessed via an online consultation process (for a fee).
Click here to find a community or access us as an individual business. If neither of thes options suit you, we have plenty of free resources and guides on our website.

What is the commitment?

When you click on the join link and fill in your details, it simply means that you are open to your local Plastic Free Places team member making a time to meet with you and talk about what you currently do, understand your needs and concerns within your business, and make suggestions towards steps that can be taken towards going plastic-free. You determine what changes you make and when you implement them. We aren’t pushy, but we know our stuff - and that takes the pressure off you having to figure it out while still running your business.

How much will it cost me?

In communities we work in, our service costs you nothing as we are already funded. If you are not located in a community - then there is a small fee to cover our costs of paying staff. Being a not-for-profit we are reliant on government funding, so in its absence the small fee will enable this service to extend out of funded locations.

Why should I get involved?

1. Being part of the solution: 8 billion tonnes of waste is generated every year. Movements to reduce the waste we generate at the source are happening all around the world for this reason. 2. There are lots of plastic-free solutions available, and more innovations happening all the time. 3. Specifically in Queensland, customers formed part of the 94% of 19,000 people who put in a submission to ban single-use plastics in the state. They want you to be part of that change - in fact, many people are choosing businesses to support based on whether they accept reusables, or use compostable packaging. This trend is happening across Australia, with the mindset changing to support businesses whose operational ethos aligns with an individuals own values surrounding waste and sustainability. 4. By accessing a Plastic Free Places community in your local area or via our online service, we are making it easier than ever to address the issue of single use plastics in your business. We meet with you to understand what you are currently using and what your needs are, and we offer you solutions to save you the work of figuring it out yourself. 5. There are single-use plastic bans implemented or coming soon in the majority of states. Joining our program helps you to prepare for these bans and ensures compliance is met.

Do I have to give discounts to customers for BYO?

No! Some businesses like to offer a discount but many don’t, and that’s ok. We may mention it as one of your options, among other things that other establishments are doing, but will support you whatever you choose to do. We are finding many businesses are successfully implementing a surcharge on single use items rather than adding a discount for reusables, which is both great for behavioural change and ensuring your bottom line isn’t affected.

How do I become a completely plastic-free business?

That depends on the changes you are willing to make within your business practices. Currently, it’s almost impossible to use no plastics at all within a business, however our program focuses on six key single-use plastic items that are among the top ten most littered. Start by eliminating those six items and we can then look deeper into the next steps to take to eliminate more plastics, as well as looking at the management of your waste and recycling. There are a lot of guides on our websites to help you, and of course you can register for an online consult if you'd like to talk to us.

If I don’t want to switch away from all the plastics I use, is there any point in joining?

Yes! We meet you where you are in your plastic-free journey and work with you up to where you are comfortable. Businesses usually find that they can easily make more changes than they realised at the start. We won’t push. We are always available once you join, and offer advice and support when you want it.

How long does it take to become plastic free?

It really depends on where you are when you start. If you choose to use up what you have before transitioning, it could be 3 - 6 months. Under our program, there is no set time to make changes. After your initial induction to your local Plastic Free community, we will make recommendations and help you achieve them. It is entirely up to you whether and what changes you make. Every business is different, so as long as you keep taking steps towards becoming plastic-free, each step is an improvement and makes a difference. We celebrate every change you make!

Do we have to change everything at once?

No. Some businesses like to jump straight into changing everything they can, and find that it’s easier to do it that way. However, every business has different needs and circumstances, so we will work with you at your pace.

Do you have ongoing support once we become members?

Yes! If you join one of our community programs, we are here to support you, inform you of better options if they come up, and answer any questions you may have.

What other things can we do in our business that will complement going plastic free?

Take a look at the waste you produce and how you dispose of it. Think about what happens at the end of life of an item in your business. A first step might be to separate waste into recyclable, food waste and landfill. Find someone to take the food waste - many restaurants have staff members, gardening organisations or farmers take their food scraps to compost them. Ensure staff are on board with all waste-free initiatives. In Queensland there is the state government-funded EcoBiz program that will look at your waste, water and energy - and help you with solutions. Options similar to this could also be available in your state, it's always worth reaching out to your local council to find out.

For individuals

I am at the start of my plastic free journey and I feel overwhelmed, where do I begin?

Firstly, it is OK to feel overwhelmed, the good thing is that you’ve recognised that your behaviour can be reassessed. A very easy first step would be to stop using single-use coffee cups, cutlery, plastic bags when shopping, straws and buying plastic water bottles by bringing your own. It takes a bit of practice at first, and everyone has slip-ups, but remember to put them near your door or in your car to make it easier to remember. There are a lot of waste-free, zero-waste and plastic-free groups on social media and blogs online, which provide support and guidance on your journey. Have a scroll through our website for tips too! We have some guides for individuals to help.

If I have an idea for somewhere that could use your advice and guidance, what can I do?

You can tell them about Plastic Free Places - and if they are in one of our communities, point them in the right direction or let them know about our online consultation service.

Can you help me become plastic-free at home?

The Plastic Free Places program is focused on supporting retail food and beverage businesses (such as cafes, restaurants, food trucks and takeaways) to transition away from single-use plastic takeaway packaging to more sustainable options to eliminate plastic waste at the source. We don’t work specifically with individuals but will often share information for individuals to reduce their single-use plastic usage.

Our school tuckshop needs to reduce the single-use plastic they use. Can they sign up as a member?

Right now our focus is on cafes/restaurants/food trucks/takeaways - but we agree, most schools need to reduce their canteen/tuckshop waste! Working with a school canteen involves more than the six key items we focus on initially with businesses. We need to work with waste separation, capture and management as well. Please check with your individual local Plastic Free Place to see if they are at the stage of working with schools.