Science

Plastic litter on Australian beaches cut by 29 per cent over

Australia has substantially reduced plastic pollution on its beaches through local initiatives like installing more bins and community clean-up events

Environment



10 June 2022

A plastic bottle littering a beach in Melbourne, Australia. Sunset and horizon line in the background.

A plastic bottle on a beach in Melbourne, Australia

Barbara Fischer, Australia/Getty Images

Plastic rubbish on Australia’s beaches has declined by 29 per cent over six years thanks to a range of local council initiatives.

“It’s surprising and really heartening to see this change in a short period of time,” says Denise Hardesty at CSIRO, Australia’s national science research body, who surveyed 183 beaches around Australia with several colleagues.

They found 29 per cent less plastic litter on average when they surveyed the beaches in 2019 compared with their previous survey in 2013.

Some areas had even more impressive results, reducing the amount of plastic rubbish by up to 73 per cent. A minority went in the other direction, though, and had up to 93 per cent more litter.

The beaches with the biggest reductions were in areas where local councils had put in place certain initiatives. These included installing more bins, putting up signs to remind people not to litter, setting up hotlines to allow reporting of illegal dumping, providing different bins for households to sort their waste, having schemes to pay people for handing in plastic bottles for recycling and organising community clean-up activities.

“Community connection to beaches and local custodianship plays a really important role,” says Hardesty. “I can’t tell you how many times I’d meet someone while I was doing these surveys who’d tell me, ‘I’ve been cleaning up this beach for 30 years’.”

Beaches with increased rubbish were often in areas where anti-littering signs had been installed but without extra bins or other infrastructure, says Hardesty. “You really need to couple the signs with the bins, the waste separation and things like that to make it easy to do the right thing,” she says.

Further reductions in the amount of waste could be achieved by banning single-use plastics and putting a price on plastic so that we “treat it as a valuable commodity instead of waste”, says Hardesty.

Her team is also looking at technological solutions, like installing sensors in storm-water drains to identify hotspots of plastic pollution.

Journal reference: One Earth, DOI: 10.1016/j.oneear.2022.05.008

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