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Conjuring a future without landfill

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Conjuring a future without landfill

Sunshine Coast Council has a plan for all rubbish to be reused by 2041. WORDS: Michelle Larkin.

Who remembers rubbish tip days when you’d back up the trailer, then shovel everything into one big pit?

These days there are areas for scrap metal, electronics, clothing, batteries and many more – with even a separate place to dump x-ray films.

But imagine a future without landfill at all.

The Sunshine Coast Council has plans to ensure that by 2041, rubbish is reused, rather than dumped or buried.

Eliminating landfill forms part of the Sunshine Coast Resource Recovery Strategy 2023, adopted in November, as part of waste-management plans for the future.

Councillor Maria Suarez (who manages the Sunshine Coast Environment and Liveability Portfolio) says the Council’s plan will “view waste as a resource”, and help them reach their goal of zero-net emissions by 2041.

“It sets a clear path to harness the value of these resources – for example by collecting food waste and converting it into compost and recovered plastics that can be repurposed into clothing or park benches,” Cr Suarez says.

She also explains that it will support a ‘circular economy’, where waste products, such as plastic bottles and steel cans, are turned into something new, then used again – creating a ‘circle’ of use.

A new $40m material recovery facility (MRF) in Nambour will support the ‘repurposing revolution’.

The MRF will use innovative technology to sort and salvage glass bottles, plastic containers, cardboard, paper, and steel and aluminium cans, allowing materials to be repurposed for use in various industries.

“With this strategy, Council will meet Commonwealth and State waste reduction targets and lead the way to a cleaner, greener, more sustainable future,” Cr Suarez says.

Besides using your home recycling bin effectively, and organising a green-waste bin from Council, there’s another recycling avenue Coast residents might not be aware of.

Queenslanders use three billion drink containers each year, and a 2023 UN Report states that Australia has the second-highest consumption rate per capita of bottled water – despite having safe and clean tap-water available.

Reports from Clean Up Australia volunteers state that one in 10 items found on Clean Up Australia Day is a drink container, making up nearly 18 per cent of the total rubbish removed.

We’ve all seen images of marine life impacted by plastic drink bottles.

These non-recycled bottles, unfortunately, often reach the ocean where they break into pieces and are commonly mistaken for food and consumed by animals like turtles – with often-fatal effects.

Compounding this issue, these plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles take about 450 years to decompose.

So, as well as switching to a stainless-steel water bottle – and filling it from the tap – how about returning your eligible containers to Containers for Change, Queensland’s container refund scheme?

According to Clean Up Australia, the Container Deposit Scheme aims to reduce rubbish becoming landfill or ending up in the environment, and gives old products a second life, building a sustainable, cyclic economy.

Individuals can earn a 10 cent refund from most aluminium, glass, plastic, steel, and liquid paperboard drink containers between 150ml and three litres.

Since it began in November 2018, Containers for Change has received more than 580 million containers in the Sunshine Coast region alone, providing huge benefits to the community and the environment.

Containers for Change spokesman Ben Mulcahy points out that equates to more than $58 million in refunds paid to Sunshine Coast locals.

Added to the environmental and financial benefits, Containers for Change creates jobs for vulnerable Queenslanders, and offers users the option of donating their refunds to charity.

With more than 4000 eligible charities, including Clean Up Australia, 4 Paws Animal Rescue, Sunshine Coast SES Unit, and Homeless Outreach Sunshine Coast, each person can choose a charity close to their heart.

The app Containers for Change QLD is available to help locate refund points, search for charities, access digital refunds, and scan containers to check their eligibility for returning.

Users can also keep track of how their efforts are making a difference.

Containers for Change refund points aim to be accessible for all Queensland residents, with multiple locations on the Sunshine Coast.

If someone lives in Sippy Downs, for example, there are four drop-off centres within 5kms to return bottles for refund.

You won’t get rich from recycling at Containers for Change, but you will earn some pocket money, teach kids to recycle, perhaps assist a charity – and contribute to a future without landfill.

How did the Sunshine Coast do this past year?

  • The Sunshine Coast community has shown a passion for sustainability and conserving the environment, with more than 362,000 volunteer hours for the Environment Levy’s partnership programs.
  • $12.5m funding was generated by the Environment Levy’s projects, with the unused funds retained for future land acquisitions to further the Council’s conservation estate.
  • Environment Portfolio Councillor Peter Cox says Council spent $900,000 on restoring dunes and rocky headlands, which are important places supporting biodiversity and our region’s coastal lifestyle.

“Council manages almost 8000ha of land for conservation across our region, and the Environment Levy has contributed the funds to purchase and manage about half of this estate,” Cr Cox said.

  • Sunshine Coast residents of diverse ages are lending a hand to the environment, with groups such as Kids in Action supporting young environmentalists.

Kids in Action fosters leadership and conscientiousness by increasing awareness and advocacy of local and curriculum-related topics, including cultural heritage, sustainability, waterways and coastal ecosystems, and threatened species.

  • Private landholders are also keen to contribute to improve their environment and the greater good, and have planted more than 27,900 native trees through the Land for Wildlife program.
  • To contribute to the Circular Economy, individuals can buy products with a long life, avoid single-use items, recycle and return products (whenever possible), and buy vintage.

Income drawn from empties

How to use Containers for Change?

  1. Collect eligible containers.
  2. Take them to a container refund point.
  3. Earn a refund or donate. Perhaps loose change refunds don’t interest you, but why not choose a charity and donate, plus donations of $2 or more made via your member number may be tax deductible.

What does Containers for Change do with your empty containers?

  • Once you return your empties to a refund point, the operator counts the containers and sorts them by material type.
  • A logistics provider will then collect the sorted material from the refund point and deliver it to processing facilities where it’s baled and weighed.
  • The materials are sold through an online auction portal to a panel of accredited recyclers each week.
  • Many containers come back as new drink containers. Scheme material can also become road base, bicycles, prosthetics and more.

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