in ,


Word is rapidly spreading that packaging is everyone’s business, as Cairns food retailers rush to sign up to ditch unnecessary packaging and costs found in single-use plastics.

Cairns is going Plastic Free with free and tailored packaging advice for all Cairns food retailers switching away from six of the most problematic single-use plastics.

The Plastic Free Cairns program got off to a quiet start this year due to COVID-19 shutdowns, but the goal to sign up 100+ food retailers in the first year is exceeding expectations, largely due to the resiliency and positive comradery of Cairns’ local businesses and their unwavering care and respect for our natural environment and the Great Barrier Reef.

Only a short time ago Cairns food retailers turned to offering takeaway only, or closed their doors to the public, some indefinitely. Food retailers pushed through challenging times, “pivoting” their businesses and now operate with adaptiveness and flexibility to ongoing change and uncertainty.

A flood of single-use plastics in our supply chain due to COVID threatened to undo a lot of what we were working towards for Cairns’ future, but despite this, more than 40 food retailers have signed on to become Members and Plastic Free Champions of the program.

Cairns is the fifth community launched Australia as part of the Plastic Free Places program run by the Boomerang Alliance and follows successful implementation in Noosa, Byron, Adelaide and Perth. Plastic Free Townsville is running at the same time as Plastic Free Cairns, and with enough success, there is hope that these placed-based programs will be expanded to other communities along Queensland’s coastline and the rest of Australia.

We can expect to see a collective reduction in single-use plastics with more food retailers getting on board, but we’re also laying the foundation for long term behaviour change in our community with an emphasis on avoiding unnecessary packaging, reducing waste and making reusables our daily lifestyle. What we’ve seen in the more established Plastic Free Byron is more than half the members are Plastic Free Champions and businesses relying less and less on ordering single-use packaging because of the reuse and refill culture that is developing.

Unfortunately, with COVID-19, Queensland remains the only state to officially ban the acceptance of personal BYO keep cups at cafes, and the Plastic Free Cairns work behind the scenes to build a water bottle refill network using the ‘find tap’ app and participating cafes is on the down-low because these stations are not yet open to the public.

From July 2021, Queensland is set to introduce legislation to ban the sale and supply of some key single-use plastic items including plastic straws, cutlery, plates and stirrers. The legislation is a huge win for the Straw No More and the Last Straw campaigns banning plastic straws from Queensland indefinitely, with exemptions for people with disabilities who may really need them.

In the future, the ban may include plastic coffee cups and lids, other plastic cups, heavier weight ‘boutique-style’ plastic bags and balloon sticks. Acceptable alternatives to these products are reusable and 100% compostable options.

In its 2nd and 3rd year, the Plastic Free Cairns program aims to build market demand for local composting of not only compostable packaging (as alternatives to single-use plastics), but any food waste from kitchens that go hand in hand with composting. This is unlike recycling, where ‘recyclable’ packaging is typically contaminated with food or may be too small to be captured during the recycling process, ending up in landfill.

As a born and bred Cairns local, I’m excited to take on the role of Coordinator of Plastic Free Cairns. I have vocational experience with town planning and counselling, am a former coffee cart and café owner and I volunteer at a number of Cairns organisations. I have a deep passion for protecting the natural environment of Cairns and the Far North.

I love to network and collaborate on sustainability projects and build relationships with like-minded people in the community.

I’ve recently “come back home to Cairns” after 17 years studying and working in Brisbane, and I am so inspired by the campaigns run by Molly Steer with Straw No More and the Last Straw on the Great Barrier Reef. The Plastic Free Cairns program will build upon these great foundations and successes in our community.

I want to bust the myths that it costs more to switch away from plastic. The way to beat it is to avoid giving out unnecessary packaging and therefore reduce costs to retailers, but also at the same time encourage consumers to adopt new behaviours such as carrying around your own cutlery set for takeaway food, asking for less plastic in your takeaway and using your reusable bag to pick up your takeaway.

In my time, I’ve learned that a lot of reusables on the market are so much better than single-use, and I am looking forward to sharing that knowledge across our beautiful city.

The single-use plastic items targeted in the program are:

  • Straws
  • Coffee cups and lids
  • Foodware – cutlery, plates, bowls, sauce and icecream containers, cold cups, and lids
  • Takeaway containers
  • Takeaway bags
  • Plastic water bottles


How can you support a Plastic Free Cairns?

  • The Islands
  • CBD & Esplanade
  • Cairns surrounds
  • Community organisations
  • The Airport
  • Northern Beaches
  • Mobile Food Vendors

How can you support a Plastic Free Cairns?

GET INVOLVED! LOOK OUT for the Plastic Free Cairns logo and Member or Champion badges displayed on windows and front counters, and let those food retailers know you appreciate what they are doing to reduce and avoid plastics.

GET ONBOARD! When restrictions ease, BYO keep cups, tumblers, bags and containers or sign up to a container swap system. When ordering takeaway food, ask for less plastic. Thick sauces can be poured on or beside food, not in a separate plastic container. BYO bags to pick up your takeaway food. It all comes down to consumer demand.

Support These Plastic-Free Cairns Businesses:


  • The Islands
  • CBD & Esplanade
  • Cairns surrounds
  • Cairns Performing Arts Centre
  • Tanks Bar
  • The Roti Shack Cairns
  • Blue Lagoon Bar, Night Markets
  • Muddy’s Café
  • 92 Lake St Café Gallery
  • Root Vegetarian
  • Wharf One Café
  • D’Cafe & Seabreeze Café, Cairns Hospital
  • Blackbird Laneway
  • The Pier Bar
  • Dundee’s at the Aquarium
  • Dundee’s at the Waterfront
  • Rattle n Hum Bar and Grill
  • Envy Espresso
  • Coffee 21
  • Roti Shack
  • Community organisations
  • The Airport
  • Northern Beaches
  • Mobile Food Vendors


  • Blackbird Warehouse, Bungalow
  • White Whale Coffee Roasters, Portsmith
  • Cairns Courtyard Café, Portsmith
  • The Healthy Hub Café, Cairns North
  • The Palms Cairns, Aeroglen
  • Sapori Antichi Italiani, Smithfield
  • NOA, Edge Hill
  • Botanic Gardens Café, Edge Hill


  • Ellis Beach Bar and Grill
  • Nu Nu Restaurant, Palm Cove
  • Numi Icecreamery, Palm Cove
  • Café Yorkeys, Yorkey’s Knob
  • Veloce Espresso, Kewarra Beach District, Holloway’s Beach


  • Zephyr Restaurant, Fitzroy Island
  • Pool Bar & General Store, Fitzroy Island
  • Foxy’s Bar, Fitzroy Island


  • Rotary Club of Cairns Trinity
  • Gordonvale Scouts Club


  • The Pier Bar
  • Rattle n Hum Bar and Grill
  • Brew Juice Co


  • The Hungry Nomad


Written by Jules Steer