Plastic waste on beaches in Australia has declined by nearly 30 percent in the last six years.
The reduction is thanks to a range of initiatives put into place by local councils across the country. These include installing extra bins, putting up signs reminding people not to litter, and a hotline to report illegal dumping.
“It’s surprising and really heartening to see this change in a short period of time,” says Dr Denise Hardesty, a marine debris at CSIRO, an Australian Government body for scientific research.
CSIRO put together a team who surveyed 183 beaches in 2013 and again in 2019 to compare the differences.
The study set out to find what factors and underlying behaviours would help to reduce coastal plastic waste. Lead researcher Dr Kathryn Willis said she was surprised by how quickly the plastic waste went down:
“We were really surprised and excited to also find that there was, on average, 29 per cent less plastic on our beaches than in 2013 when similar surveys were conducted.”
The CSIRO group found that beaches that had cleaned up the most had successfully implemented a range of clean-up initiatives.
In councils where do not litter signs were put up and bins were provided there was a decrease in littering. However, where do not litter signs were erected but inadequate or no bins provided, the opposite effect was observed- plastic rubbish increase in these locations.
The most successful councils also found that financial incentives work to decrease litter. This includes councils offering a rebate when taking plastic bottles to a waste centre.
Clean up programs like Clean up Australia Day and volunteer beach clean-up days were also effective strategies.
Although it seems like most news stories about plastic are negative, Dr Hardesty looks at it through a positive lens.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Oh my gosh, is it so depressing that you work on plastic and it’s just everywhere and growing?’” Dr Hardesty said.
“And I tell them, ‘Actually, it’s also kind of a story of hope and optimism.”