Clean Up Australia going strong

More than 750,000 Australians have donned gloves and cleaned our beaches, rivers and parks in the nation’s largest community environment event.

Besides full garbage bags, many first-time Clean Up Australia Day volunteers will carry away a fresh perspective on waste and packaging that will resonate throughout the year.

Volunteers were expected to have picked up more than 300,000 pieces of plastic, metal, glass, e-waste and other junk at 10,000 sites across the country.

“Once you’ve done a clean up, you change the way you think about what you buy and consume,” Clean Up Australia chair Pip Kiernan told AAP.

“You are also more conscious of what you leave behind when you’ve enjoyed beautiful open spaces in this country.”

Gone are the days of volunteers hauling car batteries and whitegoods from Sydney Harbour but Ms Kiernan and federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek found the “usual culprits” at an inner Sydney beach on Sunday – plenty of soft plastics, beverage containers and “dreaded” cigarette butts.

The haul has become common across the nation, with plastics of all types making up 81 per cent of rubbish in Clean Up Australia’s 2023 Litter Report, which included an estimated 76,000 cigarette butts.

“A lot of people don’t realise the cigarette butt is plastic,” Ms Kiernan said.

“It breaks into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic and it’s often ingested by our marine and wildlife and causes a lot of problems.”

Ms Plibersek stressed the importance of the initiative, which started in Australia and has spread globally.

“If we keep doing what we’re doing now, by 2050 plastics in the ocean will outweigh fish in the ocean,” she said.

“The plastic, once it gets into the environment, it breaks down into microplastics and makes its way into the food chain including into human beings.”

Western Australia set about addressing plastic contamination on Friday, becoming the first state to introduce a ban on single-use, non-compostable coffee cups.

Businesses that fail to comply face fines of up to $25,000.

South Australia has committed to removing the cups from sale in September but progress has been slower in the more populous states, with NSW and Victoria among the jurisdictions yet to act.

The WA ban, which extends to unlidded disposable plastic food trays such as sushi and bento boxes, should divert more than a billion items from landfill annually.

Queensland will inject $2.7 million into 30 councils to fight illegal dumping and offer another $7 million to employ regional waste management plan co-ordinators.

Amid a state election campaign, the Tasmanian Greens used Clean Up Australia Day to call for a container deposit scheme.

The island state is the only jurisdiction without a scheme, despite its correlation to less container waste.

Olympians Kerri Pottharst and Sam Fricker lent their support to the national initiative on Sunday.

“We all want to enjoy the beautiful oceans and beaches that we have, but we have to look after them and we have to take that rubbish home,” Ms Pottharst said.

More than 21 million people have participated in Australia’s largest community-based environment event since 1990, the charity said.

Perth’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community said the day fostered a sense of responsibility, environmental consciousness and unity.

“We are committed to making a positive impact in our community in every way possible,” Imam Syed Wadood Janud said.


Luke Costin and William Ton
(Australian Associated Press)


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