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How local solutions to a global problem are reducing plastic waste on our beaches


Plastic rubbish on beaches around the country has dropped by almost a third in six years, new research shows, with hip pocket measures like fines the most effective means of making people reduce litter and make beaches cleaner.

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The CSIRO research found economic-based strategies like cash for returned bottles, fines, or higher levies at landfills that forced people to reconsider their disposals contributed to the “surprising” drop.

Lead researcher Dr Kathryn Willis, of the University of Tasmania, said the study confirmed that global waste control was driven at a local level.

As a result, the research focussed on identifying which local government approaches between 2013 and 2019 had the greatest effect on reducing plastic pollution found on beaches, Willis said.

“Our research set out to identify the local government approaches that have been most effective in reducing coastal plastics and identify the underlying behaviours that can lead to the greatest reduction in plastic pollution.

“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.

“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.”

Reducing plastic and other pollution on beaches was important as it could accumulate in the water and water’s edge of marine, and freshwater environments, potentially harming wildlife that could get tangled in plastic or consume it.

The researchers found plastic and other pollution creating dirty beaches could also affect the look and economic productivity of the areas.

In conducting the study, published in the journal One Earth, the researchers surveyed 563 areas along 183 beaches along the coast of six Australian states.

Almost three-quarters of all litter items found were plastic, and 43 per cent of the rubbish was hard plastic.

Non-plastic litter items included glass, which made up 18 per cent of the rubbish, along with paper, metal, brick and a smattering of cloth, batteries and magnets.

Co-author Dr Denise Hardesty said new local waste management strategies could have a rapid effect on cleaning up rubbish and pollution.

“For example, household collection services, where there are multiple waste and recycling streams, makes it easier for community members to separate and discard their waste appropriately,” Hardesty said.

“Our research showed that increases in waste levies had the second largest effect on decreases in coastal plastic pollution. Local governments are moving away from a collect and dump mindset to a sort and improve approach.”

Community rubbish collection and monitoring activities, such as Clean Up Australia Day, were also effective, she said.

“Increasing community stewardship of the local environment and beaches has huge benefits. Not only does our coastline become cleaner, but people are more inclined to look out for bad behaviour, even using dumping hotlines to report illegal polluting activity,” Hardesty said.

Local areas that did not update their waste management strategies or cut their coastal waste management budgets had ‘dirtier coastlines’ over the six-year study period, the study found.

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