It is National Recycling Week, so what’s clogging our streets?
Cigarette butts have been the leading form of litter on Australian streets for the past 15 years. City of Sydney council cleaners pick up 15,000 butts every day – just a fraction of the estimated 7 billion Australians throw away each year.
According to Clean Up Australia, butts are often found in the stomachs of young birds, sea turtles and other marine creatures that mistake them for food. The toxic chemicals contained in the cigarette filters include lead, arsenic and cadmium which leach into our aquatic ecosystems.
The problem of littered butts also extends to the land. The Country Fire Authority in Victoria confirmed that the 2009 Black Saturday fire in Bendigo West was caused by a discarded cigarette butt. That fire resulted in the death of two people and the loss of over 50 homes.
People caught littering in Auckland now face fines of up to $400, and in Illinois, if you are caught three times, expect a fine of $25,000 and at least one year in jail. NSW is nowhere near as severe. The current fine in NSW for dumping a cigarette butt is $60. The graph below shows how constant the number of fines issued for littering in NSW have been.
Terrie-Ann Johnson, CEO of Clean Up Australia, told The Newsroom, that enforcement was not working because, “fines are fine – so long as they are enforced. Unfortunately the courts tend to see littering as a minor offence – with cases clogging the system.”
The NSW government research shows that a lack of bins is not a major factor contributing to littering: most dumping occurs within five metres of a bin. Bin use is most common between 11am and 2pm and littering is most common about 4pm.
Sydneysiders recycle almost 16,000 tonnes of refuse a year but we also dump about 10,000 tonnes a year in the streets and waterways. – Story and photos by Nigel Gladstone