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Litter is a prevalent environmental problem in Australia. It’s almost everywhere - from beaches and streets to recreational parks and private properties. As you move, you’ll see fast food packaging, cigarette butts, food scraps, balloons, and drink bottles carelessly thrown in public places. The most affected areas are Melbourne, Sydney, and Western Australia.
Thankfully, the government is working on ways to tackle this problem. It has come up with initiatives such as Keep Australia Beautiful and Tidy Towns. Keep reading to find out how to help tackle this litter problem.
What Exactly Is Littering?
Litter is defined as the disposal of anything into water or land. This can either be from a vehicle, business premise, or by a pedestrian. Littering is the act of throwing or depositing litter. Allowing litter to be blown from or fall from a vehicle or building is also considered littering.
Distribution of unauthorised posters and flyers and dumping of furniture, household appliances, food containers, and construction waste can also be termed littering.
Difference Between Littering And Illegal Dumping
Littering is commonly thought of as minor amounts of waste dumped haphazardly and illegally on the ground. While it may appear to be a small amount now and then, litter piles up quickly.
On the other hand, illegal dumping occurs when a large volume of rubbish is carelessly discarded rather than being safely disposed of. Illegal dumping depreciates property values and makes a community appear hostile.
Is It Illegal To Litter In Australia?
Throwing litter anywhere other than into container depots or designated waste facilities is illegal and is punishable under the Litter Act of 1979. Depending on your location, licensed officers can issue litter infringements, such as local government rangers, police officers, and other personnel hired by government departments.
Dumping Or Littering From A Vehicle
Vehicle drivers and passengers are common culprits of illegal dumping and littering. Some people throw out cigarette butts from their vehicles, while others use them to dump garbage in unlawful dumping sites.
According to the Litter Act, an offence committed inside or outside a vehicle is the responsibility of the vehicle's owner. It is then up to the vehicle's owner to declare and establish that someone else committed the offense.
Items That Are Easiest To Litter
Some of the most littered items include plastics, paper, and metals. This is based on data available in the National Litter Index. However, cigarette butts and balloons are some of the items considered to be the easiest to litter.
Cigarette Butt Littering
Cigarette butts are probably the most littered items in Australia. A quick look at statistics shows that:
• Out of the 24 billion filtered cigarettes smoked every year, approximately seven billion are littered
• Six out of ten smokers leave their ashes on the ground
• Over 700 landscape fires are caused by abandoned cigarette butts each year
Every Australian should be concerned about widespread cigarette butt littering - whether smokers or non-smokers. Here is why:
• Littering is against the law
• Cigarette butts are made up of non-biodegradable material that takes time to decompose
• If washed into waterways, cigarette butts release hazardous substances such as zinc, lead, and cadmium
• Birds, fish, and other aquatic species die after feeding on cigarette butts mistakenly
There are many ways to reduce cigarette butt littering in the country - especially if you are a smoker. All you need is to do the following:
• As a smoker, dispose of the butts appropriately
• Participate in the Bin Your Butt program
• If you don't smoke cigarettes, you still can register as a litter reporter
Balloons released into the air eventually fall to the ground and become trash. As a result, they pose a threat to the environment and animal life - particularly marine species and birds. The Keep Australia Beautiful organisation does not support such acts. It encourages people and organisations to think of safer ways of celebrating rather than using balloons.
The effects of balloons are similar to those of plastic bags. It is so sad that some balloon remains have previously been discovered inside dead animals. Such animals often mistake balloons and balloon shards for food. Unfortunately, these balloon shards choke the animals to death once they are swallowed. Furthermore, balloon threads can strangle and entrap animals, leading to more deaths.
Here are a few suggestions for non-balloon ways to commemorate, advertise, and celebrate:
• Plant a native tree or garden in remembrance - One of the best ways of gifting during any occasion is to use plants as gifts. Planting native trees is also excellent. Trees provide clean air, food, and shelter to wildlife. You can also gift seeds or seedlings.
• Use reusable signage options - Streamers, banners, and flags are some of the reusable promotional materials available to businesses. They are cost-effective and can be used repeatedly.
• Bunting - Bunting is an amazing way to highlight an area. As a result, you can create eye-catching bunting.
• Candles and luminaries - If made of environmentally friendly materials, candles are a simple way to commemorate or celebrate an event. You can set luminaries to align a sidewalk with messages attached to them or design them to let people leave their own messages.
• Bubble blowing machine - Blowing bubbles with a battery-operated machine is more environmentally friendly than releasing balloons. This is because bubbles are made from non-toxic detergents and water and vanish on impact, leaving nothing behind - unlike water.
What Are The Fines For Littering?
With littering becoming a major issue in Australia, the government has become more serious about it. There are litter regulations already in place to combat such acts and thus protect the environment.
Some notable fines for littering are:
• $200 fine for plastic bottles, a single cigarette butt, wrappers, and other waste that should be disposed of in an environmentally acceptable manner.
• A $200 fine is also charged for general littering, putting domestic or commercial waste in a public container, and billposting.
• It's an offence to transport unsecured goods by vehicle. If they fall off and end up on a public road, you'll part with $200.
• A $500 fine for littering that has an impact on community health.
For businesses, the fine for the above offences is $500 for each except littering in public places, which attracts a fine of $2,000.
Littering offences have a maximum penalty of $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for corporations, or $5,000 for both persons and corporations if the litter regulations are broken. Illegal dumping is fined as well.
How To Help Reduce Littering In Australia
Litter attracts litter. If you litter, you increase the chances of others littering too, and this is a concern since it affects the beauty of a place. It also affects water quality, can cause fires, is hazardous to the public, and can clog drainage systems. Furthermore, littering is expensive because communities incur high cleanup costs.
Everyone can have tidy towns and neighbourhoods if they are more responsible in the way they dispose of waste. Some of the ways to help include:
Become a Litter Reporter
You can sign up on the Keep Australia Beautiful website and report cases of littering. To report littering by vehicles, you need the following details.
• Description of the persons involved
• The waste type and amount
• The date, and time and location
• Description of the vehicle - including its registration number
Take Part in Clean Up Australia Day
Held every first Sunday of March, the cleanup exercise encourages people to clean up the environment. To sign up, just go to cleanup.org.au and search for an event near you.
Education is an important way of reducing littering. Inspire others to keep garbage cans from overflowing. The lid of an overfilled bin can quickly be blown open by the wind, dispersing rubbish throughout the area. Post messages about the consequences of littering and how to avoid it on neighbourhood bulletin boards. Educate kids about proper waste disposal and the negative consequences of littering.
Littering And Criminal Records
It's important to note that any littering conviction will be recorded on your criminal record. However, if you are caught throwing a cigarette butt and pay an immediate fine, this won't appear on your criminal record.
Repeated offences, particularly those committed by a corporation that routinely disposes of waste products in the public domain, will result in a criminal record for the offender.
Corporations that continue to dispose of commercial waste in the public domain repeatedly are committing a criminal offence. Even if the case is resolved with a fine, the littering offence will appear on the offender's national criminal record. This is subject to a court case and the offender being found guilty.
Use Waste Collection Services
It is unfortunate that littering alone can see you paying hundreds and even thousands in fines. It is even more unfortunate that this might end up in your criminal records, tainting your image as a person or organisation. To avoid this, you might want to use professional trash collection services. Doing so is less stressful and helps you to stay on the right side of the law even as you participate in keeping Australia clean.