Report of the 6th National Conference

Canning the Dump – Recycling in a Remote Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Community

Page last updated: 07 July 2008

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Brad Milligan, Eddie Bobongie, Tropical Population Health Unit Queensland Health

“On behalf of Eddie Bobongie and myself I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners, the Irukandjii People and Elders, and thank the conference organisers for their invitation to come and address the conference. We are here today to talk to you about our recycling program which we set up in the Cape York Peninsula”.

Eddie Bobongie
“With this program ‘Canning the Dump’, the backbone of this program was the EHW at the community. Like Stephen Canendo said, people like us Indigenous EHWs, we are the leaders in that community. In my position as a District EHW I lead the way and then let them run with it, but I come from behind and support and assist it, and provide professional advice. People like Brad work with me, and are also a driving force. When we go to the communities we see big mounds of cans at the dump site. So one day we sat down with a plan and asked where all the cans come from. They said they came from the canteen, so people must drink a lot of alcohol to have so many cans in the community.

We then approached the council and talked to them to make them understand that the program would help the community. We convinced them to start the program. The next step was to tackle the people about where the cans were coming from, and we talked to the canteen manager. We explained that we were going to start the program and he agreed to it as well. The next step was to approach the recycling company in Cairns to get resources like wool bags to put the cans in. Luckily we didn’t have to crush the cans, so this made things easier”.

Brad Milligan
“Thanks Eddie. As Eddie said, the program evolved after a few trips to the communities. Over a period of six months we watched the dump triple in size, with the majority being aluminium and steel cans. We spoke with the EHW at length, and then with the Council, and made a commitment. Interestingly, we estimated that about 70% of the dump was aluminium or steel cans, but when we got down to the ‘nitty gritty’ we determined that the community was disposing of around 50000 aluminium and steel cans per month - a huge amount of waste.

This was one of the things that made us look at the dump. There was poor management, and as we wanted someone to take ownership of the dump, the EHW put his hand up.

Why choose waste management in the community? There were a couple of reasons. It was very cheap for us to get a basic program operational. We actually asked for no money from the council, and no-one else provided any money to get the project going, which made it easy for council to support. Council was happy for us to help try to do something if they didn’t have to put any money in, and we could achieve a visual difference at the end in the community. The council had very little knowledge of environmental health, and didn’t have any EHW working there in the past, so some of the conditions were pretty bad. As I said, we estimated the dump area tripled in size from 2004 to 2005. Seventy per cent of waste was aluminium cans, with no dump management strategies.

How Did We Make It Work?

  • Basically by recycling the cans. Transport and storage were the key issues we needed to address.

How Did We Do It?

  • We made an agreement with the recycler in Cairns to supply us with some bags. He initially didn’t want to support the program as the bags supplied cost them money (they had sent bags out in the past which had not been returned). Eventually we were able to talk him into it.
  • The wool bags fold down to almost nothing, and contain about 30 kilos of cans.
  • We send 30 bags down at a time, and in fact Eddie is constantly chasing the recycling company for more bags for the EHW on his behalf.
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Of note, the recycler requested that the cans be returned uncrushed, so that was a bonus for us to try to convince the community to take the project on. They didn’t need to have someone sitting there crushing cans. One of the barriers is the wet season, and transportation of the cans which are moved on a truck. Another bonus is for trucks carrying loads in can now take bags of cans out, so they don’t have empty loads. However, with the wet season we also have had to identify a storage place near the canteen to store the bags.


  • We struck an agreement with the canteen manager at the source to separate the cans, collect them at the end of the night, and deposit them into the bags, rather than dump them at the tip.
  • We have also looked at future expansion to households, but to date this hasn’t kicked off.
  • Council is looking at incentives for kids to be involved for collection days such as barbecues and prizes, but this hasn’t gone forward as yet.

Benefits Of Recycling Cans

  • Money comes back into the community to be used for activities for kids and adults.


  • 100 bags of cans back to Cairns for recycling, which is a massive step forward for the community.
  • Now able to control the local dump (reference to a diagram in 2003 in comparison to 2006) and got on top of their waste management.
  • Best thing has been the acceptance of EH by the council of how important it is to the community and health.

Lessons Learned

  • Many contracts were made verbally (which can go to the side sometimes).
  • There was an issue with council not being paid their money by the recycler, but this has been resolved.
  • It is a good project for the community to see the effective work of an EHW, and the importance of EH in the community.
  • Storage of aluminium cans especially in the wet season is a challenge, as aluminium cans are great mosquito-breeding containers, and a fair area is needed with dedicated coverage for the stored bags which are 1cbm in size.
  • Bag alternatives may be needed if they run out or cannot be delivered due to the wet seasons – eg, bulk material bags.


  • Very low costs – just an investment of time by Eddie, the council, the EHW and the community.
  • Obtaining goodwill service providers.


To look at implementing this program at other communities in Cape York.


Q1. “Have you considered extending this project of recycling to other products like plastics”?

A1. Brad Milligan - “Yes. This was the first step. However, there is a problem with plastics. As you know, a lot of dumps regularly get burnt so it is an issue, but we can certainly look at it - concentrating on separation of items at the household”.

A1. Eddie Bobongie - “We have introduced into the community brown paper bags at the store to get rid of plastic bags, as they are no good for our land and our sea”.

For Further Information
Brad Milligan
PO Box 1003, Cairns, Qld 4870
Ph: 0429 063 642 Email:
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