“New Scientist” reported last week that plastic pollution along Australia’s coastline has declined by 29% over the last six years thanks to a range of local council initiatives.
“It’s surprising and really heartening to see this change in a short period of time,” said Denise Hardesty at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science research body, which surveyed 183 beaches around Australia.
The survey found that there was a 29% decrease in plastic litter on average when they surveyed the beaches in 2019 compared with their previous survey in 2013.
Some areas showed even more impressive results, reducing the amount of plastic rubbish by up to 73%. A small number of survey sites, unfortunately, went in the other direction, with up to 93% more litter.
The beaches with the biggest reductions were in areas where local councils had put in place certain initiatives, which included installing more bins, putting up signs to remind people not to litter, setting up hotlines to allow reporting of illegal dumping, providing different bins for households to sort their waste, having schemes to pay people for handing in plastic bottles for recycling and organising community clean-up activities.
“Community connection to beaches and local custodianship plays a really important role,” Hardesty told “New Scientist”. “I can’t tell you how many times I’d meet someone while I was doing these surveys who’d tell me, ‘I’ve been cleaning up this beach for 30 years.’”
Beaches with increased rubbish are often in areas where anti-littering signs have been installed but without extra bins or other infrastructure, said Hardesty. “You really need to couple the signs with the bins, the waste separation and things like that to make it easy to do the right thing.”
Further reductions in the amount of waste could be achieved by banning single-use plastics and putting a price on plastic so that we “treat it as a valuable commodity instead of waste”, said Hardesty.
Her team is also looking at technological solutions, such as installing sensors in stormwater drains to identify hot spots of plastic pollution.
The lead researcher, Kathryn Willis, said the scientists were surprised to see such a large drop in the average amount of litter since the original surveys back in 2012/13.
“While 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,” Willis said.