Plastics dominate Australian litter landscape

Clean Up Australia Ltd

Monday, 05 February, 2024

Plastics dominate Australian litter landscape

Plastics make up 81% of Australian garbage, according to Clean Up Australia’s most recent Litter Report.

Compared to the previous year’s report findings, soft plastics increased to 34% (a 9% rise), while hard plastics comprised 28% of all surveyed litter, equating to a 4% increase for plastics overall. Cigarette butts represented 16%, an increase from the previous year, and ranked second only to soft plastic pieces in the individual items category, with beverage bottles coming third. Vapes were collected at 22% of surveyed sites, an increase from 2022 when they were found on only 10% of surveyed sites.

“A notable rise in soft plastics is concerning and emphasises the need to address soft plastics collection and recycling in Australia and consider ways each of us can reduce single-use plastic wherever we can,” said Pip Kiernan, Chair of Clean Up Australia.

Kiernan was also concerned that 44% of reported litter was cleared from waterway sites, followed by parks and bushland at 16% and 11% respectively. “Despite increased survey returns from parks, the higher volume of reported litter at waterway sites reminds us that litter has a strong likelihood of ending up in our precious rivers, creeks and the ocean,” she said.

Clean Up Australia’s report echoes other research highlighting the magnitude of Australia’s plastic waste problem. The nation ranks second globally in generating single-use plastic waste per capita.1 Each Australian produces around 60 kg of plastic waste annually1, with 130,000 tonnes of plastic litter entering Australian marine environments yearly2. Despite initiatives in several states to phase out single-use plastics and the success of container deposit schemes (CDS) in Australia, further action is needed on reducing waste and boosting recycling.

“The way we are producing and consuming our resources isn’t sustainable for the planet,” Kiernan said. “Our volunteers across the nation are telling us daily of their frustrations and the need for greater care of the environment. While litter clean-up remains vital, the focus must shift towards reducing waste production and embracing a more circular approach.”

Kiernan said the commitment of the organisation’s volunteers remained essential. “Not only are they picking up litter, but their efforts also expose challenges with new waste streams as they emerge. Together, we must address the persistent issues outlined in the report and work towards a sustainable, litter-free future,” she said.

The FY23 Litter Report provides a snapshot of Australia’s litter from 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023. The data was collected by 1,030,395 Australians who registered 17,139 clean-up sites and collectively contributed approximately 2,060,790 hours of volunteer effort.

Clean Up Australia Day will be held on Sunday, 3 March. To register, visit

1. Charles, D., Kimman, L., & Saran, N. (2021). Minderoo Foundation. Plastic waste makers index: revealing the source of the single-use plastics crisis.
2. DCCEEW (2021). National Plastics Plan Summary

Image caption: Clean Up Australia Chair Pip Kiernan (L) with volunteers.

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