Scientists found efforts by local governments to cut waste and raise public awareness have contributed to major reduction in plastic pollution in Australia.
Plastic waste across Australia’s beaches and coastlines has declined by a third over the past six years as a result of a wide range of local initiatives to reduce litter, according to research by Australia’s science agency.
Researchers at CSIRO, Australia’s national science research body, conducted extensive surveys of coastal litter including plastic and other debris such as glass in 2013, and the findings were compared with 563 new surveys in 2018-2019 across 183 sites in six Australian states. The scientists also interviewed waste managers across 32 local governments around the country.
The study, which is published in the journal One Earth, showed that there was an average decrease of 29% in pollution across the sites. In some areas, plastic pollution had cut down by up to 73%, though a small portion of areas saw coastal litter increase by 93%. The main driver behind the marked difference was active initiatives by local authorities to reduce litter.
These included installing more bins, anti-littering signs, more recycling guides, setting up hotlines to allow illegal dumping surveillance, hard waste collections, shopping bag bans, adopting a Deposit Refund Scheme that pays consumers back for recycling, as well as community beach clean-ups. Researchers also found that retaining economic-based strategies and continued waste management strategy updates across the six-year period have had the biggest effect on reducing coastal litter; areas that reduced or removed budget for coastal waste management had “dirtier coastlines”.
“Whilst plastic pollution is still a global crisis and we still have a long way to go, this research shows that decisions made on the ground, at local management levels, are crucial for the successful reduction of coastal plastic pollution,” said Dr Kathryn Willis, lead researcher of the study and a recent PhD graduate from CSIRO and the University of Tasmania.
“While we still have a long way to go, and the technical challenges are enormous, these results show that when we each play to our individual strengths, from community groups, industry, government, and research organisations, and we take the field as Team Australia – then we can win,” she continued.
Increasing community stewardship of the local environment and beaches has also been found to bring huge benefits and positive results. It drives people to be more involved and “look out for bad behaviour”, and pushes the community to help protect and keep their areas clean.
On top of local initiatives, the researchers also call for a ban on single-use plastics and putting a price on the material to further reduce plastic pollution in Australia, while Dr Willis’ team continues to study for technological solutions, including installing sensors in storm-water drains to identify hotspots of plastic waste.
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