Cigarette butts and single-use plastics remain the biggest polluters in our waterways, with up to 1000 pieces of debris occupying each kilometre of Australian coastline, according to the Australian Marine Debris Initiative Database report.
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The Australian-first database by the Tangaroa Blue Foundation has recorded information about more than 10 million pieces of debris collected from national waterways over eight years, with more than 100,000 contributing volunteers.

Across Sydney's beaches, the most common type of rubbish recorded was cigarette butts, which accounted for 31% of all rubbish collected, with 147,000 collected since 2010. Nationally, they accounted for 21% of all debris.

Coming in at second place as foam and plastic packaging, collectively making up more than a fifth of the debris. Straws, plastic cups, plates and cutlery, drink bottles and lids make up 13%, with more than 60,000 collected since records began. Small pieces of hard plastics and plastic bags also accounted for 13%.

Yet data shows the types of rubbish littering waterways vary significantly across the country. 

On Western Australia's mid-coast for example, debris typically originates from the fishing industry, with fragmented floats, fishing lines and pieces of frayed rope very common. 

Heidi Taylor, managing director of the foundation, says it is quite a worrying trend that more than three-quarters of the recorded debris is plastic. 

"As high as 95% in some areas are plastics that do not biodegrade, they just fragment into smaller pieces," Taylor told the Sydney Morning Herald

"More remote areas attract weird stuff that has been in the ocean for a long time, with buoys, gas cylinders and military ordnances washing up on the shoreline.

"Such remote areas are notoriously hard to maintain due to the limited capacity and infrastructure for ongoing clean-ups. In one clean-up, 7.5 tonnes of rubbish was collected from a remote 6km-long beach in a national park near Cape York. 

"In Sydney or Melbourne, the majority of debris is coming from the local community, or through the stormwater systems. But when you head up north, debris is coming from other countries.

"We started recording the barcodes and brands of water bottles, so we could see where they came from. At the Gulf of Carpentaria, we collected over 10,500 water bottles, but only 20 were from Australian brands." 

With sources of rubbish ranging from littering to faulty rubbish bin designs, Taylor hopes to use the data to stop debris at the source.

"Knowing where the rubbish in our oceans is coming from could help solve wildlife impacts such as ingestion, entanglement and loss of habitat, to potential human health impacts including ingestion through plastic-contaminated fish," Taylor said.

"While the foundation is working on state, industry and national initiatives, I implore individuals to think about what they don't need to use.

"We need to reduce single-use plastics - products we use once and chuck away. By doing it little bit by little bit, it becomes a habit."