Lead researcher and recent PhD graduate from CSIRO and the University of Tasmania, Kathryn Willis, said in a release on Thursday that waste control is generally driven at a local level, so their research looked at identifying which regional government approaches were most effective at reducing plastic pollution on beaches.
“We were really surprised and excited to also find that there was on average 29 percent less plastic on our beaches than in 2013 when similar surveys were conducted,” she said.
“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.”
Published in the journal One Earth, the study builds on the CSIRO’s coastal litter surveys conducted in 2013 and includes 563 new coastal surveys, as well as interviews with waste managers across 32 local governments around Australia.
Local government waste management actions were separated into three categories; how to improve waste disposal, planned behaviour, crime prevention, and economic rationality.
Planned behaviour includes strategies such as recycling guides, information and educational programs, and voluntary clean-up initiatives which help reduce coastal litter, while crime prevention involves waste management measures like illegal dumping surveillance and beach cleaning by local governments.
Finally, economic rationality refers to actions such as curbside waste and recycling collection, hard waste collections, and bans on shopping bags to reduce local litter.
The study found that maintaining economic-based strategies over the six-year study period had the greatest effect on reducing coastal litter, and the more economic waste management measures that were in place, the cleaner the coastlines.
CSIRO researcher and co-author of the paper, Denise Hardesty, said the research demonstrated how the deployment of effective waste management strategies could effect rapid change.
“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,” she 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.”
A waste levy is a fee that licensed waste facilities to have to pay for each tonne of waste brought to the facility, a strategy designed to encourage the diversion of waste from landfills to recycling.
The study also demonstrated that local councils that did not update their waste management plan or scrapped their budget for coastal waste management over the six-year period had more polluted coastlines, whereas councils that increased expenditure on coastal waste strategies and improved information on waste management in their websites saw a considerable decrease in plastic pollution along their coastlines.
This research supports CSIRO’s Ending Plastic Waste Mission, which aims to achieve an 80 percent reduction in plastic waste entering the Australian environment by the end of the decade.