Economic signals drive plastic waste reduction

Economic factors focused on recycling and restricting the use of plastics along with local action were among the most effective ways to reduce plastic litter on Australian beaches, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal One Earth, builds on the CSIRO Coastal Litter Survey conducted in 2013 and includes 563 new coastal surveys and interviews with waste managers in 32 local governments in Australia.

Lead researcher Dr Kathryn Willis, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Tasmania, said global waste control was driven locally.

Dr Willis said: “Our research aimed to identify which local government approaches have been most effective in reducing coastal plastics and to identify the underlying behaviors that can lead to the greatest reduction in plastic pollution.

“We were really surprised and delighted to also see that there was on average 29% less plastic on our beaches than in 2013 when similar surveys were carried out.

“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 the local management level, are crucial to successfully reducing coastal plastic pollution. .”

Dr Willis said maintaining economic strategies over the six-year period had the greatest effect on reducing coastal litter.

“More economical waste management strategies have led to relatively cleaner coastlines.”

The study categorized local government waste management actions into three categories on how to prevent improper waste disposal:

  • Economic rationality – actions such as separate waste and recycling collection, hard waste collection and a ban on shopping bags reduce local waste
  • Planned behavior – strategies such as recycling guides, information and education programs and voluntary clean-up initiatives help reduce coastal litter
  • And crime prevention – waste management strategies such as illegal dumping monitoring and beach cleanups by local governments produce less plastic in the environment.

CSIRO researcher and co-author of the paper, Dr Denise Hardesty, said the research shows how quickly changes can happen when effective waste management strategies are deployed.

“For example, household collection services, where there are multiple waste and recycling streams, allow community members to sort and dispose of their waste appropriately.

“Our research showed that increasing litter taxes had the second-largest effect on decreasing coastal plastic pollution.”

The study also showed that municipalities that did not update their waste management strategies over time or cut their budget for coastal waste management had “dirtier shorelines” over the course of the year. six-year study period.
However, municipalities that have improved waste management information on their website and increased coastal waste budget efforts have seen a significant decrease in plastic pollution along their coastline.

This research supports CSIRO’s Ending Plastic Waste mission, which aims to reduce plastic waste entering the Australian environment by 80% by 2030.

Kathryn Willis recently completed her PhD at the University of Tasmania and is now a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Washington. Kathryn’s research was conducted with CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere and supported by the Marine Biodiversity Hub of the National Environment Science Program.

The One Earth paper: Local waste management successfully reduces coastal plastic pollution

Photo: Cleanaway/Warehouse Recycling

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Bryce K. Locke