3 Sep 2019

Over 10 billion cigarette butts pollute country's ecosystem

6:56 pm on 3 September 2019

New Zealand's first national litter audit has found there are more than 2000 cigarettes for every person polluting the environment.

Garbage trash pile of waste plastic bag and bottle.

Photo: 123rf

The first of its kind report has created baseline figures for the amount of rubbish in New Zealand.

The audit was released by charity organisation Keep New Zealand Beautiful in consultation with Stats NZ, Department of Conservation and the Ministry for the Environment, with funding from the Waste Minimisation Fund.

The audit found there are about 3.6 billion pieces of plastic and 394 million litres of nappies littered across the country.

More than 10 billion cigarette butts pollute the country's ecosystem.

And there was enough illegal dumping to fill 2123 rail carriages to the height of 151 Auckland Sky Towers.

Keep New Zealand Beautiful chief executive Heather Saunderson said the litter audit was carried out by examining 413 sites across New Zealand, equivalent to 1000 m2 in size.

The rubbish collected from the sites were then multiplied across the area of New Zealand.

"So that's not actually what [rubbish] we found per se, but looking across the whole of New Zealand as an average," Ms Saunderson said.

But she said litter habits needed to improve in New Zealand.

"I think on the scale of environmental issues, litter seems to be for most people a very small issue. But this research clearly shows it's a large scale issue," Ms Saunderson said.

"You can easily change that behaviour and that's our focus, trying to educate the 'littlies', and reinvigorate that be a tidy kiwi mantra of yesteryear."

She said they intended to do another audit in the next three years that would find out if management strategies succeeded in reducing litter.

Nicky Snoyink is the Forest and Bird regional manager for Canterbury and the West Coast

Nicky Snoyink Photo: Supplied

Forest and Bird regional manager for Canterbury and the West Coast Nicky Snoyink was shocked at reading the report.

She said the issue also highlighted the problem of plastic waste in New Zealand, which threatened wildlife.

"The issue is pretty huge because there are a number of legacy rubbish dump or old rubbish dumps around the countryside. Some of which have exploded already out into the ecosystem and into rivers that get washed out to sea," Ms Snoyink said.

"Then all the plastic and bits and pieces that are in that [rubbish], eventually breaks up into tiny little bits and that's a huge hazard for lots of our native wildlife."

The audit also estimated that there are 258,043,800 litres of takeaway containers, which is enough to fill 25 rugby fields one metre high.

Community-led waste reduction group Wastebusters based in Central Otago said the data confirmed the well-known belief that single-use plastics ended up as litter.

Wastebusters communications advisor Gina Dempster said she was surprised at the 394 million litres of nappies, calculated by Keep New Zealand Beautiful.

"When you think it's 100 nappies per person in New Zealand that seems very high given that we don't generally see a lot of nappies lying on the ground, but when I looked into how the report was done, I realised that it was covering both the illegal dumping of household rubbish and what we traditionally think of as litter, so I think that's where that high number of nappies is coming from," she said.

Ms Dempster said from Wastebusters viewpoint, the report showed that tackling litter was not all about personal responsibility.

She said the government and producers of waste must do more to reduce waste.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs