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Nappies and cigarette butts dampen NZ’s green image, litter audit reveals

A Keep New Zealand Beautiful National Litter Audit, for 2019, estimates that more than 3.6 billion pieces of plastic are being littered in New Zealand.

It also estimated there are enough disposable nappies littered to fill 159 Olympic sized swimming pools and there are 2,142 littered cigarette butts to each person in New Zealand.

Released in September, the audit reveals staggering figures on the estimated amount of litter covering New Zealand’s “clean green” landscape.

The audit estimates there are more than 394,965,000 litres of littered disposable nappies across the country and 10.2 billion littered cigarette butts.

There are an estimated 258,043,800 litres of takeaway containers littered in New Zealand and more than 265,000,000 litres of illegally dumped items.

In a six-month audit, surveyors studied 413 areas, covering 477,349 sqm. The results were then extrapolated across the area of New Zealand. Sites surveyed were a mix of both urban and rural locations, including public recreational spaces, car parks, industrial and residential areas, retail spaces, highways and railways.

The audit takes a detailed look at the most littered items, the largest contributors to the country’s litter volumes and it gives a regional breakdown.

Cigarette butts were the most frequently identified item nationally, with 39 butts recorded per 1000m² and disposable nappies represented the largest contribution to the estimated national litter volumes – recording 1.50 litre of volume per 1,000 m².

As well as this, the report digs into the most littered brands, with Speights identified as the most frequently found brand, accounting for 5.44 per cent of all branded litter items recorded for 2019.

McDonalds and DB were close behind with each brand accounting for 4.93 per cent.

In order to minimise the amount of material being littered across New Zealand, the Ministry for Environment’s Outcomes Framework has highlighted some key targets for the country. These include, implementing local authority-led cross-domain approaches to trends in land and marine based waste entering the marine environment and having robust data sets for all environment domains.

New Zealand’s Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie sage, commended the Keep New Zealand Beautiful report in helping to capture some important waste data.

“This Keep New Zealand Beautiful report helps fill an important gap in our knowledge around litter to ensure our ‘clean green’ image is a reality.

“This report also gives us a baseline dataset to monitor litter into the future. It helps us shift to a circular economy, where we focus on designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use longer, and restoring and being restored by nature,” Sage said.

Australia similarly has an annual litter audit report. The Keep Australia Beautiful 2017/18 National Litter Index showed a litter reduction of 10.3 per cent, compared to the previous year.

The most significant decrease observed was 16.8 per cent in takeaway food and beverage packaging.

It too, gives a state by state breakdown and identifies the most littered products – again, cigarette butts top the list.

The top 10 most littered items in Australia in 2017/18 were:

  1. Cigarette butts and their packaging;
  2. Plastic snack bags and confectionary wrappers;
  3. Plastics straws;
  4. Plastic bottle tops;
  5. Metal bottle tops and can ring pulls;
  6. Carbonated soft drink and flavoured water in cans;
  7. Paperboard cups and paperboard take away food containers;
  8. Plastics takeaway containers and plastic cups;
  9. Paper shopping dockets and shopping lists; and
  10. Paperboard coffee cups.