Rubbish you leave on the street, at the beach, in a park, in bushland or at the shopping centre is litter. It doesn’t matter where you leave it, each piece of litter damages our environment. Litter is blown or washed into stormwater drains and ends up in creeks, rivers, wetlands, estuaries and the sea.
Stormwater is rarely filtered before it reaches our waterways. Riparian vegetation, wetland restoration and stormwater management devices (e g bio-retention basins, gross pollutant traps) have also been implemented across the region to control, amongst other things, litter entry into local waterways. Stormwater pollution traps have been installed at the ends of some stormwater drains, but these mechanisms cannot fully clean litter from stormwater. It’s everyone’s responsibility to stop litter getting into our stormwater.
- Litter looks ugly in public places, streets, parks, beaches and waterways.
- Litter kills aquatic animals – marine turtles die a slow and painful death after ingesting plastic bags mistaken for jellyfish, their favourite food.
- Litter clean-up is costly for the community and councils.
- Litter blocks stormwater drains, reducing their effectiveness and contributing to localised flooding.
- Litter can be downright dangerous to human’s too, particularly broken glass, sharp hard plastic, needles and syringes.
Over 95% of litter items found across the Bundaberg Fraser Coast region are small in size (<100 mL) and are mainly cigarette butts, chewing gum and fragments of paper or cardboard.
Your litter impacts you, the environment and everybody.
Take cigarette butts for instance. Smoking related items, such as cigarette butts and foil from cigarette packets are tiny but they dominated all Bundaberg sites and were the greatest contributor to recovered litter at all sites (Table 6a). Cigarettes are a common item in litter surveys (KAB 2015), and are also one of the most harmful due to the potential to cause bushfire (they can smoulder for up to 3 hours) and the leaching of harmful chemicals into the environment (Novotny et al. 2011). Similarly, at Hervey Bay and Maryborough, smoking related items were a significant contributor to litter loads, but at some sites were surpassed by gum and paper-cardboard items (Table 6b) (Wilson, S & Verlis K, 2016)
Cigarette butts take on average 1.5 years to break down. With an estimated 4.5 trillion cigarettes butts littered worldwide every year, this rate is too slow to keep up with the number of butts we drop. This is a big problem, and it’s getting bigger each year, but it’s a problem that can be avoided very easily – just like all litter.
Plastics & fishing gear are another big killer with seabirds fast becoming reliable indicators of ecosystem health. On nesting islands off Australia, seabirds have been found with ingested plastics making up 8% of their body weight. Imagine a person weighing 62 kg having almost 5 kg of plastic in their digestive tract. Think about how large that lump would be, given that many types of plastic are designed to be as lightweight as possible.
Did you know that as many as 15,000 turtles are caught in dumped fishing gear in Northern Australia alone each year?
Green waste, including leaves, grass clippings, weeds, seeds, branches or other plant waste, is a major contributor to litter. Green waste impacts our environment. Seeds of weeds or exotic plants washed or deposited in bushland habitat or onto foreshores germinate and take hold – smothering native plants. This reduces resilience and biodiversity in that habitat. When it rains heavily, water that does not soak into the ground runs off from gardens, gutters or roadsides, picking up green waste along the way. Decomposing green waste results in elevated nutrient levels (eutrophication) of our waterways causing prolific algae growth (an algal bloom) that reduces water quality. As the algae blooms it uses up the oxygen in the water causing fish and crab kills and driving other animals from their habitat.
Q: What weights the same as 50 MILLION adult reindeer but is nowhere near as cute/
A: The amount of rubbish that washes into the ocean each year
To be precise, more than 8.3 million tons of rubbish finds its way to the oceans each year. A million tons of this stays in the ocean but the rest of it finds its way onto shores all over the world
Economic & Social Costs
Since the introduction of Bundaberg Regional Council’s Illegal Dumping and Littering program in 2013, more than $36,000 in fines have been issued but the problem of loose litter on roadsides and adjacent to commercial premises continues to grow (BRC 2015). The use of CCTV cameras at illegal dumping hotspots has also been helpful in identifying offenders. On the Fraser Coast, it costs rate payers around $150,000 for the council to send people out and pick up around three semi-trailer loads of rubbish a year (Wheeler 2015). In 2013, crews cleaned up and removed more than 80 tonnes of illegally dumped rubbish and litter across the Fraser Coast area (FCRC 2014) with places like Eli Creek a major dumping hotspot.
Did you know that in Queensland, local councils bare the $18.7M cost to manage 10,900 tonnes of illegally dumped waste? A massive cost burden that does filter down through the community.
The knock-on effects of litter are huge…. rubbish attracts rubbish which can lead to:
- Loss of recreation and tourism opportunities,
- increased clean up costs by individual businesses, homes and councils,
- increased rates,
- Poor visual amenity or health and safety concerns. This can result in loss of income if homes can not be rented or tourists don’t stay.
- Cigarette butts starting fires – costing lives and damaging property.