Most of us have been guilty of it at one time or another. It’s littering, and it’s the focus of a proposed new $50 million National Litter Action Plan, a partnership between the Australian Packaging Covenant and Keep Australia Beautiful. 

“Whether it be unwittingly or accidentally, just about everybody at some stage will have littered,” said Stan Moore, CEO of the National Packaging Covenant Industry Association (NPCIA).

Often we litter without even realising it. Behavioural studies have shown when people operate on autopilot, “they just toss things away. Part of our plan is to get them to think before they do that act,” Stan said.

The proposed new Litter Action Plan employs three pillars of litter mitigation, education, infrastructure and enforcement, to build on past campaigns like Do the Right Thing and reduce the volume of litter in Australia by 20 per cent by 2025.

Infrastructure, like bin placement, is about offering the consumer the opportunity to dispose of used packaging in the appropriate manner. “If you do the right thing and put it in the right bin, we end up with recycling where it should be, and low contamination rates. The result is less litter,” said Stan.

The education component aims to make littering socially unacceptable through a long-term behaviour change program. School students have a significant role to play in the initiative, becoming “litter enforcers” in their families. While it can be difficult to engage with busy parents, children are much more receptive to positive messages of litter mitigation.

“They learn that it’s not the right thing to litter,” said Stan. “The evidence shows if you educate the child, they will be really good policemen in enforcing that upon their parents.”

Enforcement, the final pillar, does two things. First, it reinforces awareness. It also acts as a disincentive to the small minority who continues to litter despite improvements in infrastructure and education. “The likelihood of receiving a fine for littering is the only way you ever seek to change their behaviour,” said Stan.

In an effort to crack down on litterbug motorists, a website, app and telephone are available within various states around Australia allowing people who spot a driver tossing rubbish out their window to “dob in a litterer”.

Stan hopes that the proposed National Litter Plan will reach a generation who has missed out on an ongoing behavioural change program, like previous generations’ experience with Do the Right Thing. “One of the hallmarks of that program was it was around for so long it became a way of life.”