Rise in major problem affecting everyday Aussies: 'Time is ticking’

The Clean Up Australia litter report revealed that of all of the waste collected by volunteers, 81 per cent was plastic.

Australia’s problem with waste has been laid bare in a new report that revealed a shocking 468,482 items of litter were picked up across Australia in the past 12 months – with one expert saying that we’re running out of time to reverse the growing issue.

The Clean Up Australia litter report, published on Friday, showed that of all of the waste collected by volunteers, 81 per cent was plastic - a rise of 4.2 per cent from the year before.

Of that plastic, 34 per cent was soft plastics such as wrappers and bags which grew by 9 per cent. Other items picked up included cigarette butts and vapes — many of which end up in waterways and hurting native wildlife.

Pip Kiernan is urging Australians to cut back on plastic. Source: Clean Up Australia/Rubbish Removal Sydney
Pip Kiernan is urging Australians to cut back on plastic. Source: Clean Up Australia/Rubbish Removal Sydney

Clean Up Australia is now calling for more awareness of the urgent need to stop litter production at its source - and is a “rallying call” to volunteers to get involved in the event this year on March 4.

“We need to produce less,” Pip Kiernan, chair of Clean Up Australia told Yahoo News Australia adding that this change needs to happen at all levels including government, business and consumer.

Australia ‘not on track’ to hit targets

Australia has targets in place to reduce the environmental impact of plastic packaging by 2025 – including that 70% of all plastic waste will be recycled or composted by 2025.

“We have waste targets in place but we’re not on track to do that,” warns Kiernan. “More needs to be done and we need incentives in place.”

There are things everyday Australians can do to reduce their waste to help solve the problem, but following the collapse of Australia’s largest soft plastic recycling program, REDcycle, many Australians have been left feeling apathetic towards the problem.

According to the report, soft plastic was a major contributor to the plastic waste problem. While Kiernan couldn’t be sure that the increase in soft plastic littering is connected to the collapse of REDcycle, she explained that soft plastic is “really problematic”.

“Because they're light, they can be blown by the wind. They can be mistaken for food when they're in the marine environment,” she said.

Two men collect a plastic bottle from a waterway in Australia
Clean Up Australia volunteers collected 468,482 items from 1,356 surveyed locations. Source: Clean Up Australia

Aussies can ‘make a difference’

Kiernan wants to remind everyday Aussies that they can make a difference. “It can seem overwhelming,” she said, but as Australia is one of the biggest consumers of single-use plastic per person in the world, more can be done by everyone.

Ways to make a change include:

  • Saying no to overpackaged fruit and vegetables at the supermarket

  • Not buying single-use water bottles and coffee cups and opting for reusable ones instead

  • Saying no to plastic bags

Burden ‘shouldn't' be placed solely on consumers

While Kiernan says that consumers have a “big influence” and can send a strong message about what they want with purchasing habits, she adds it is going to take “everyone in the supply chain” to tackle the problem.

Consumer expert Jana Bowden echoes that view, adding that plastic waste is a “systemic problem” that needs to be addressed – and that burden “can’t and shouldn’t” be placed solely on the shoulders of everyday Aussies.

“These two forces - consumer and industry - operate hand in hand as a joint effort. Many industry players are doing a great job at stopping plastic at its source but equally, there is a lot of room for improvement.

“Consumers aren’t making a beeline for single-use or soft plastics in all they purchase, they use plastics because that is simply what is being offered to them.”

Bowden adds that “time is ticking” to solve the problem and there is no “magic bullet” that will solve the problem.

“At present economic viability is a huge hurdle, it’s a global dilemma and it requires an authentic, partnership between manufacturers, retailers, supermarkets, governments and of course the end consumer,” she said.

Clean Up Australia is urging everyday Aussies to sign up to join in on Clean Up Australia Day. Visit their website for more information.

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