Melbournians continue to be serial litterers – BeachPatrol Australia collected and recorded high levels of plastic litter in 2023

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BeachPatrol Australia has successfully removed 22.5 tonnes of litter from our shores and streets, by 50 groups of volunteers, including 43,070 drink bottles and more than 360,000 items made of plastic. In addition, the various soft plastic items collected amounted to 59,975 items.

This data was collected by the volunteers entering their collection data into the BeachPatrol Litterstopper app, where it is then displayed on the BeachPatrol webpage.

Dr. Ross Headifen, Co-Founder of BeachPatrol Australia, emphasises the critical need for more targeted action, stating, “Our findings are clear: our coastlines are under threat, and the time to act is now to ramp up our game when it comes to plastic litter and waste.”

“The findings underscore the severity of the situation and the collective responsibility we share in preserving our coastal ecosystems.”

In 2023, volunteers spent, on average, more than an entire calendar day picking up 22,520kg of litter, contributing a minimum of $371,902.87 to the Victorian economy.[1]

The top five items collected and counted include cigarette butts (71,179), Hard bits less than 5cm (59,544), Nurdles (44,247), Poly/Foam (27,633) and food wrappers (23,203).

Dr Headifen says, “Over the past years, the Victorian State Government has implemented bans on some superfluous single use plastic items such as plastic bags, straws, cotton buds, cutlery, plates and drink stirrers.   While the ban on plastic bags and straws has made a big difference to those items being littered, the other items were not found in significant percentages.   However, the BeachPatrol data shows more success could be achieved by considering these other items that are littered in substantial numbers.

“Cigarette butts have been a highly littered item for years and yet other than the overall reduction of the number of people smoking, very little has been achieved in creating awareness to this one highly littered item.  Only 8% of the population smokes, yet they drop a high amount of litter, more than any other group.  We are also finding that the incidence of littered plastic vaping products is on the rise.”

Strategic beach clean up events

BeachPatrol Australia strategically organised 175 beach cleanup events throughout 2023. Dr. Headifen emphasised the approach, stating, “Our focus is not just on cleaning up, but on rasing awareness in the communities of the overuse of plastic.”

Community mobilisation

Dr. Headifen highlighted the strategic mobilisation of communities, stating, “We want to empower communities to become stewards of their local beaches and streets. The increased community participation reflects the success of this approach, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility.”

Education initiatives

Dr. Headifen stressed the importance of education being part of the solution to stopping plastic waste getting into our environment, stating, “Our strategy extends beyond cleanup events. We strategically invest in educational initiatives to create a ripple effect of awareness and sustainable practices, ensuring a lasting impact on our coastal environments.”

“The absence of anti-littering campaigns in the public space any more has not helped.  Education programs are expensive to implement and maintain, as it takes a long time for their message to have an impact.   Time is running out to preserve our environment from plastic pollution and regulation by government policy now is the much-needed action to take.”

According to Dr Headifen, the Container Deposit Scheme is warmly welcomed by BeachPatrol.

“This scheme is starting to have immediate success and throughout 2024 there will be a significant reduction in the littering of drink bottles and cans.  Plus, there will be reductions in associated items such as bottle tops, and plastic bottle labels that often fall off.  BeachPatrol will be monitoring this trend every month.”

“Our methodical and systematic approach to collecting and recording our litter collections is a game-changer. It’s not just about cleaning up; it’s about addressing the root causes of pollution and inspiring lasting change.

“Our work signifies a pivotal moment in our mission to protect our coastal environments from plastic waste. We’ve amplified our efforts, engaging communities with a shared commitment to cleaner beaches and a healthier planet.

“But there is so much more work which needs to be done to rewire the mindset of repetitive litterers.” Dr Headifen concluded.  

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