New Zealand’s littering problem has worsened over recent years, a just-published national audit finds, with discarded plastic proving the biggest scourge.
The results of Keep New Zealand Beautiful (KNZB)’s latest National Litter Audit (NLA) found that, compared with the last stocktake four years ago, more litter was being found – whether measured by items, volume or weight.
Researchers last year collected and analysed litter in specific fixed sites, while recording key metrics and brand data.
The audit, developed in consultation with government agencies, showed plastic to be the most prevalent material found nationally, with a 72 per cent increase – or 50 items found per 1000sq m, compared with 29 in 2019.
Cigarette butts also remained a widespread problem – making up 34 items per 1000sq m – as did glass beer bottles and construction waste. Masks and test-kits, which have become common with Covid-19 didn’t feature prominently.
The audit found also a sevenfold increase in the estimated volume of littered paper and cardboard – with chucked cardboard boxes making up much of that - and a more-than three-fold jump in the volume of waste that had been illegally dumped.
Of branded litter, the audit showed more snack wrappers and packets were found than alcoholic beverage containers – McDonald’s packaging accounted for some 5 per cent of that found.
By location, the most litter was found at retail sites, after industrial sites were found to have had the highest levels in the 2019 audit.
The audit comes as a soon-to-be-released study by KBNZ finds more than half of councils see illegal dumping as a “moderate” problem – while nearly two in 10 think it a major one.
Each year, about a third of councils are reporting between 101 and 500 instances of illegal dumping, with one in 10 reporting even more.
“The results of the 2022 NLA are surprising and alarming, even off the back of years of Covid-19 restrictions,” KBNZ chief executive Heather Saunderson said.
“Despite the efforts of tidy Kiwis nationwide, the audit results really speak to the fiction of New Zealand’s clean green image and illustrate the need for government, industry and Kiwis to take immediate action.”
The findings would help inform national and local policy development, but also guide industry, she said.
“We’re focused on education, behaviour change and working with leaders of industry who are committed to sustainability.”
In a forward to the audit report, Environment Minister David Parker singled out some of the Government’s recent waste-busting efforts, such as an ongoing phase-out of hard-to-recycle, single-use plastics.
A ban on plastic produce bags, plates, bowls and cutlery – effective from 2023 – was expected to prevent about two billion items going to landfill or ending up as litter each year.
At the same time, the Government was looking at standardised kerbside recycling collection, aimed at making what could or couldn’t be recycling from home clearer.
Yet, Cabinet’s recent policy shake-up shelved plans for a container return scheme – something described as “devastating” by the Kiwi Bottle Drive community campaign.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told RNZ Parker proposed deferring the scheme because of its cost-of-living implication.