How WMRC initiated Plastic Free July in the community
From an office initiative to involving the community
The Western Metropolitan Regional Council manages the waste and recycling on behalf of five member councils in Western Australia. They have always had a strong focus on avoiding waste at its source, educating and engaging the community.
In 2011 they decided as an office to try and avoid single-use plastic for the month of July. They kept any plastic they did use in a canvas bag, and shared their wins and areas for improvement amongst one another. And so, Plastic Free July was born.
Gaining momentum with plastic free events
After successfully avoiding single-use plastic that month, the WMRC amped things up by developing ideas to raise awareness about plastic waste at events. These included talks, cooking workshops to empower people to DIY more and buy less, and movie nights.
“One of the best events we held was a low-waste cooking workshop” said Amy, WMRC’s Waste Education Officer, “we held a public launch for Plastic Free July at the local farmer’s market and Jude Blereau, a Perth-based sustainable food guru, demonstrated how to cook wholesome food without creating plastic waste.”
With all these fantastic events, word quickly spread. Soon other local councils were jumping on board. The challenge was a great way to promote the low waste message both in the community and amongst staff. Many councils began hosting plastic free morning teas for birthdays and events.
Taking the plastic free message mainstream
While the WMRC started their journey by sharing the low waste message at their events, they wanted to promote the idea that anyone could run a waste-free event with a little bit of enthusiasm. So it seemed like a great opportunity when they were approached by a member council asking for assistance in running their annual event, Celebrate Lake Claremont, in a sustainable way.
With many food vendors and visitors on the day, the waste planning for Celebrate Lake Claremont used to be a big job.
“We’d get 12 waste and recycling bins delivered before the event, arrange Bin Fairies (local volunteers to help attendees put the right thing in the right bin), and then spend the next day cleaning up the litter in the surrounding bushland and arranging the removal of the waste generated,” explained Amy.
It sounded like avoiding waste at the event was going to be difficult, but it turned out to be easier than expected.
“We started thinking about waste as we planned each activity. We’d think: ‘what is the waste footprint if we do it this way?’,” Amy said. “It actually became quite a fun experience where we’d get to be creative every step of the way.”
They switched out single-use coffee cups and purchased 100 reusable mugs for the coffee van to use instead. The mugs were cleaned at a washing station that WMRC set up. Vendors had to follow an application process that ensured they were not allowed to serve any plastic packaging, which made a significant impact on how much litter there was to clean up.
And the impact it had? Huge.
“The people who attended the event really embraced the initiative,” said Amy. “Because it’s a place that people go to to enjoy nature, be that for a jog or out with their family, they could really make a connection with the impact.”
Supporting community events to reduce plastic waste
The Western Metropolitan Regional Council continues their efforts by providing a number of items that help people reduce their plastic waste at events. This includes a portable water station, which allows attendees to refill their water bottle or take a drink from a water fountain instead of purchasing bottled water.
The 100 reusable mugs that were purchased for the Celebrate Lake Claremont event are also available for free to groups in their area running an event.
“All they have to do is give us a call and book it in,” explained Amy. Event organisers receive a kit with 100 clean mugs, buckets, washing up liquid and tea towels.
“The kit has been used many times at events across the region, so it was certainly not a waste to purchase those cups all those years ago.”