For seven years, I have worked at the coal face of the ground-up movement of changing littering behaviour.

As a child, I vividly remember being told by my grandmother: "Don't be a litterbug" and "Be a tidy kiwi". Alongside this influence was clever television campaigns such as the catchy song that some of you may remember from the early 90s in the video below.

But when we started working on reducing plastic in the ocean, it felt like there was a serious gap in education, that is only now starting to be filled as our programs roll out through educational tours that we work tirelessly to fund and deliver. The great news is that through extensive longitudinal research from generous psychologists at Studio Huss that help us out pro bono, we are now seeing that it works - the messages we are delivering are raising awareness over the long term.

Whilst I do not work on political policy, recent studies that show the extensive nature of the problem of marine debris may call for more drastic action.


A study from the University of California estimates that 90 per cent of seabirds have ingested plastic today and that by 2050 it will reach 99 per cent of species on the planet. Even more disturbing is that: "The highest area of expected impact occurs at the Southern Ocean boundary in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand".

As the photo above shows, we have found dead seabirds with plastic in their guts ourselves. It is all too clear, that when you incorporate the damage to wildlife (and associated long-term loss of economic opportunities through tourism), the problems of blocking up sewer and stormwater infrastructure and the cost burdens that we bear through rates for waste management, that the real costs of single-use plastic packaging is not taken into account.

If it was, we would be consuming far less and - apart from a handful of greedy people like packaging moguls, who certainly don't need any more money - our society would be much better off.

One area of "low-hanging fruit" for reducing plastic litter is legislation about plastic bags. Over 12 years ago, Ireland implemented a plastic bag tax in an effort to curb litter and reflect the real cost of packaging.

Within weeks, there was a 94 per cent drop in plastic bag use and now plastic bag use has become socially unacceptable. The proceeds from the tax go to the environment ministry who distributes the money to clean-up and awareness projects - which further improves the litter situation.

All of the UK has now followed suit through legislation, yet we lag behind. We had a go at a 'voluntary measure' to charge for plastic bags and amazingly, the outcry from ridiculous shoppers was such that the supermarkets curbed to pressure and removed the policy.

It is clear that we can't expect the businesses that work with the packaging industry, who has been feeding us stuff that we don't need in the name of profit for many years, to lead something like this.

Another option is the outright ban. A 2011 ban in the state of California has led to plastic litter reduction of "approximately 89 per cent in the storm drain system, 60 per cent in the creeks and rivers, and 59 per cent in City streets and neighbourhoods".


So it is clear that this actually works. Should we implement a law for reducing plastic bag consumption? If so, should it be a tax or an outright ban?