Litter refers to small items of rubbish which are left in an open or public place. Illegal dumping refers to larger items of waste. Not everyone intends to litter, for example the waste that is thrown to a public bin might miss and fall on the ground. Other actions are more deliberate, but there are small things that we can all do to reduce littering and dispose of waste correctly, avoiding the cost and damage that litter and illegal dumping cause.
The facts about litter
- People are more likely to litter in areas that are already littered
- 95 per cent of litter on our beaches comes from suburban streets through the stormwater system
- Litter can cause flooding by blocking the storm water system
- Litter harms marine life by polluting their habitat, being mistaken for food, and trapping or injuring them
- Litter can be a fire hazard (e.g. lit cigarettes thrown from vehicles) and a health hazard (e.g. broken glass, needles and syringes)
- The total cost of litter and street sweeping maintenance for local governments in Victoria is over $78 million.
Figures sourced from the Littering Behaviour Studies (PDF, 490KB) report.
The good news about litter
If you care about litter, you are not alone. Many organisations and individuals are working hard to keep litter off our streets and out of our waterways. On Clean Up Australia Days alone, Australians have devoted more than 31 million hours towards the environment and collected over 331 thousand tonnes of rubbish over the past 26 years. Others are working to ban common sources of litter such as plastic bags, promote recycling and help international communities to conserve their environment. Together we can eliminate litter from our streets, parklands and waterways.
What you can do about litter
The best way to reduce waste and litter is to avoid it in the first place. Plastic bags, coffee cups, balloons, disposable dinnerware and straws are all single use items that take up space in landfill and pollute the environment if littered. If you need to use one of these there are many reusable alternatives that might be more suitable for you. Find out what you can do about these single-use items.
Bin your butts
Cigarette butts are the most littered item in Australia (around 7 billion butts per year) and constitute half of all litter. If you smoke, please make sure you bin your butts rather than throw them on the ground or down stormwater drains. Carrying a tin with you in lieu of an ashtray is one way to make sure that your butts never end up in our waterways and harm marine life.
Scoop your dog’s poop
Around 900,000 dogs in Victoria produce about 90 tonnes of dog poo each day. When this litter isn't scooped up, it is unsightly and inconvenient for pedestrians and cyclists, and roundworm – found in the faeces of infected dogs – can be passed on to humans, in some cases causing blindness. Ideally your pet's waste should be composted, either in an area of your garden designated for pet waste, or using a commercially available pet waste composting system. Animal droppings should not be flushed down the toilet and should only be put in the rubbish as a last resort.
Compost or bin food scraps
A common misperception about food scraps is that the odd apple core in a garden bed won't hurt because it will break down. But what would our parks and beaches look like if everyone threw their apple core on the ground? Make sure you dispose of your food scraps properly, ideally by composting. Minimise food waste in the first place to avoid throwing out precious resources.
Dump illegal dumping
Illegal dumping is unlawful depositing of larger items of waste. Household rubbish such as mattresses, whitegoods, garden waste, furniture, e-waste, tyres, clothing and construction waste are all significant illegal dumping problems. Find out how to dispose of household waste and recycling properly to minimise waste, reduce landfill and protect natural resources.
We can all do something about litter every day, by picking it up rather than walking past it in the park or on the beach (remember to consider your safety first). To participate in organised clean up events, try Keep Victoria Beautiful, Clean up Australia Day and Keep Australia Beautiful.