Bondi waves goodbye to plastic packaging

Waverley Council hosts one of the world’s most famous beaches in Bondi, as well as a diverse mix of residential and commercial precincts, urban environments and coastal bushland. Litter prevention programs are given high importance at Waverley, given that any litter entering local waterways will likely end up in the ocean. ‘Plastic Free Bondi’ is one example: a multi-stakeholder campaign that draws council, community leaders, and businesses together to tackle plastic packaging.

Litter audits in the summer of 2016-17 showed that take-away packaging was top of the target list; council made a serious dent in the problem by rolling out a four-pronged campaign following the EPA’s Litter Prevention Strategy (infrastructure improvements and cleaning, education and engagement, regulation and enforcement, monitoring and evaluation). 

The result was a hefty 50% reduction in take-away packaging litter at audit hotspots, but to sustain the improvement, council realised that reducing waste generation at the source (retailers) was necessary. 
Forums were organised to discuss the challenges and concerns of businesses, finding that terms like sustainable and compostable were confusing to retailers. This was followed up by packaging assessments with participants, life-cycle analyses of materials and items, and sourcing alternatives and solutions.

With this information in hand, Waverley established Plastic Free Bondi as a volunteer-driven organisation. To develop the organisation, position descriptions were created and advertised for seven key volunteer roles, and 17 business engagement volunteers were trained. Volunteers were asked for a six-month commitment to participate, and supported with materials, guidance, space and other resources, and networking and knowledge access (including Waverley’s ‘Collaborating for Impact’ partnership with other local environmental groups).

Business support materials including sustainable procurement guides and promotional media were also developed. Finally, the organisation was supported through the incorporation process, allowing it to become independent and take responsibility for strategy, grant funding, and deliverables.

The focus on long-term volunteer retention and engagement, organisational resilience and stability, individual accountability, leadership, and training means that Plastic Free Bondi maintains the vibrancy, self-sufficiency and credibility of the strongest community organisations.

The initiative was supported by a simultaneous campaign focused on the purchasing community, and Waverley has recorded significant impact. Litter audits at five hotspots have seen an 88% reduction in takeaway packaging items, and an astonishing 98% reduction in takeaway packaging by volume. 

Waverley has noted that the Plastic Free Bondi process and model can easily be replicated, describing the key steps as:

1. Identifying target litter items
2. Understanding the business community needs and barriers to change
3. Development of a targeted Business Engagement Program
4. Resource and website development
5. Community-led engagement
6. Council support
7. Progression