Marine Debris and Waste Management

Cape York Peninsula Community Case Studies: Summary Findings and Recommendations

Litter, rubbish and waste are an inevitable daily by-product of modern human consumer lifestyles. This is just as much the case in Indigenous communities as it is in Australia’s larger cities, towns and villages. However, absolute remoteness, small populations, comparatively small waste volumes, standardised statewide compliance laws, health and safety regulations and high operational costs make viable local options for marine debris and essential waste management challenging and highly dependent on local initiative, in an environment of diminishing grant funding and increasing costs. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in remote Northern Australia must continuously deal with escalating waste management issues: litter, township garbage, outstation rubbish, remote recycling, waste generated by contractors, visitors and tourists, as well as large amounts of marine debris in coastal and island areas. This is also the case for remote Indigenous communities on Cape York Peninsula (CYP) - as biocultural resource uses intensify, as local populations and consumption grow, and as tourist and visitor numbers increase across the Cape’s exceptionally culturally diverse and ecologically significant land and sea-scapes.  
The on-going management of municipal waste across CYP is the direct responsibility of local government – for this project’s case study communities the responsible agencies are the relevant Aboriginal Shire councils and in most adjacent areas Cook Shire Council (CSC). Other remote Indigenous waste managers include Aboriginal Corporations, either directly holding land or undertaking land and sea management on Aboriginal lands or jointly managed lands and/or seas, including marine and/or terrestrial protected areas.  
Increasing municipal waste loads in remote areas of CYP predominately originate locally, as a direct result of localised population and visitation growth. All three case study communities are growing, with new housing under construction in each community to reduce over-crowding, to house younger generations of local families or to accommodate Indigenous families or individuals returning to their community of origin. There has been a concerted effort by senior CSC representatives to explore, discuss and consider better municipal waste management and recycling opportunities within the Cook Shire over the past 8 years. Landfill sites within catchments entering the Great Barrier Reef are being systematically decommissioned, including within the Cook Shire, where a transition to locally sited transfer stations is well progressed. 
One participating case study community is seen as the current best practice example of remote municipal waste management in CYP, with landfill waste separation, bunded storage of selected hazardous wastes, selected semi-coordinated recycling and opportunistic transfer of recyclables to external re-processors using existing supply transport operators, with particular effort going into larger pre-wet season transfers. Each participating community faces unique local challenges in progressing effective waste management.