Featured News Townsville’s lazy litterbugs

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Fri, 11 Oct 2019

Townsville’s lazy litterbugs

arm reaching down to pick up a plastic bottle from the water's edge, a garbage bag in the other hand

A survey of litter in Townsville reveals people are dropping their rubbish on the ground, even though public bins are nearby.

Students from James Cook University mapped the location of litter across the city and found more than 75 percent of litter was concentrated around public infrastructure, such as picnic tables, footpaths and BBQ areas, even though public bins are provided.

The areas with higher concentrations of litter were in public areas with high levels of foot traffic, including The Strand, public parks, shopping centres, and pubs.

“Most litter was found within 75 metres of rubbish bins,” said Townsville co-coordinator Stacy Bierwagen.

“60 per cent of all litter was found within 75 meters of bins and more than 25 per cent of all litter was within 20 metres of bins. This suggests that even though there are bins available, people are still ignoring them, which comes back to littering as a social and behavioural problem.”

Half of the litter recorded in the survey was cigarette butts, and a quarter was plastic, including food wrappers and bottle caps.

“Plastic litter is always prevalent but cigarette butts are by far the most common type of litter,” Ms Bierwagen said.

“This means that education and communication still have a long way to go in terms of “bin your butts” campaigns. Even though there are cigarette bans in some public places, people continue to smoke without understanding how improper disposal can affect the environment.

“Cigarette butts are made of a fibrous material that can take decades to break down. Studies have found that chemicals and toxins from butts leach into the ground and can go into waterways and affect plant growth. Also, animals can ingest them and nicotine can be poisonous.”

Fellow Townsville co-coordinator Nicolás Younes says the project is about generating discussions around our local role in the nationwide effort to tackle waste.

“Townsville’s seaside location means that what we do in the city will have a flow-on effect to the Great Barrier Reef,” he said. “Although Townsville isn’t a large city, it still contributes to marine debris.”

The survey was conducted by 190 students in Townsville as part of the Introduction to Geographic Information Systems subject at JCU. A similar survey was also conducted by 50 students in Cairns, which found 40 percent of litter was discarded near public bins.

At a glance:

  • 54,077 pieces of litter were collected during the survey, which covered almost the entire length of Ross River, shopping centres, fast food establishments, parks, beach areas including The Strand and Pallarenda, select suburbs and the University.
  • More than 75% of all litter was within 20m of some type of infrastructure (picnic tables, BBQs, bins)
  • 60% of all litter was found within 75 meters of bins. More than 25% of all litter was within 20m of bins.
  • 50% of litter was cigarette butts (27,145 pieces), 25% was plastic (13,634 pieces)

Stacy Bierwagen