Environment

Australians tackle pandemic waste challenge on Clean Up Australia Day

More than 700,000 volunteers are expected to participate in the 24-hour initiative to clear the environment of plastic waste. Source: SBS

About 700,000 volunteers across Australia are expected to participate in efforts to reduce plastic waste in the environment as part of Clean Up Australia.

Volunteers at Clean Up Australia Day events will be dealing with a new kind of rubbish this year - waste generated by the COVID pandemic.

"There is so much more plastic waste and pandemic-related waste such as gloves, masks, hand sanitisers," Clean Up chairman Pip Kiernan told AAP.

About 700,000 people are expected to participate at sites around Australia on Sunday, with Clean Up events to be held at 450 new locations.

Ms Kiernan says people generated more waste than usual during the pandemic, because their habits suddenly changed.

"We weren't eating in restaurants, we were buying takeaway and all the plastic that comes with that," she said.

Recent research by the Pact Group has found 34 per cent of Australian households said they produced more waste during the pandemic lockdowns, and more than half are increasingly worried about the waste they generate.

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How much plastic is in the world's oceans?
How much plastic is in the world's oceans?

A Clean Up rubbish audit found that half of all the single items collected by volunteers in 2020 were plastic or contained plastic.

Butts, wrappers, lids and pieces of glass were also a problem - with cigarette butts the number one specific item collected by Clean Up volunteers.

Since 1989, 18 million Australians have taken part in Clean Up events and Pip Kiernan says the movement is more relevant than ever.

"It just resonates, it's such a simple idea and it doesn't frighten people off."

Last year volunteers recovered 17,000 ute loads of litter.

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