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Australian beach plastic pollution has reduced by a third

The CSIRO has published research showing that coastal plastic pollution has decreased by 29% in the last six years, with local government strategies having played an important part in this reduction. The ability for community members to sort their waste effectively, clean-up initiatives like Clean up Australia Day and surveillance programs that involved stewardship of the local environment and beaches were considered some of the important aspects behind the reduced plastics pollution.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the results of the research demonstrated the value of a concerted team effort in cutting plastic pollution.

“While we still have a long way to go, and the technical challenges are enormous, these results show that when we each play to our individual strengths, from community groups, industry, government and research organisations, and we take the field as Team Australia — then we can win,” Marshall said.

“Through our recently launched Ending Plastics Waste Mission, we’re each keeping a laser sharp focus on bringing together the best of ourselves across science, innovation and technology, to clean up our oceans and beaches for all Australians.”

The study builds directly on previous research. It features 563 coastal surveys and interviews with waste managers from 32 local governments. Lead researcher Dr Kathryn Willis said that local governments are an important component of waste control and that the research focused on identifying the governmental approaches that would have the most profound effect on reducing beach plastic pollution.

“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,” Willis said.

“We were really surprised and excited to also find that there was on average 29% 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.”

The study put local government waste management actions into three categories of behaviour for preventing poor waste disposal. The first category, planned behaviour, refers to strategies such as recycling guides, information and educational programs, and voluntary clean-up initiatives. The second was crime prevention initiatives like illegal dumping surveillance and beach cleaning. Finally it identified economic rationality behaviours like kerbside, recycling and hard waste collections as well as shopping bag bans.

The researchers found that economic-based strategies had the biggest effect on reducing litter and cleaning coastlines. Municipalities that did not update their waste management strategies or reduced their budget for coastal waste management had beaches that had higher levels of pollution whereas the opposite was true for places with strategies that were kept up to date and had higher budgets for coastal waste management.

The study was published in One Earth.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Drobot Dean

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