For the last five years, Australians have been littering less. According to the latest Keep Australia Beautiful annual summary report, illegal dumping of rubbish has gone down a further nine percent in the past year.

Keep Australia Beautiful CEO, Peter McLean explained that the Keep Australia Beautiful study, the only research of its kind in the country, has been measuring 983 sites twice annually to track the amount of rubbish being littered.

“We’ve seen littering decline 27% by item across Australia over the last nine years, and we’ve seen a 33% reduction in the volume of litter over the same time period, which is great,” Peter explained. “But there is always room for improvement.”

Number One Source of Litter

Peter believes the biggest problem is throwing cigarette butts on the ground. According to Peter, many smokers don’t believe chucking a butt into the sand, street or waterways constitutes littering. “Cigarette butts continue to be Australias number one source of litter, in every single state and territory,” Peter said.

“Some people think that because its only small, it doesnt really count as litter. The problem is that were seeing 20 million butts littered every single day, day after day that adds up to billions of cigarette butts.”

Like other small pieces of trash, these can cause real problems - particularly for marine life, for whom they can be lethal.  “They get into our waterways, they get stuck in all our different cracks and crevices. Theyre a nightmare to all our street cleaners,” explained Peter. “And, in our warmer months, theyre massive fire hazards as well.”

Taking Responsibility

Keep Australia Beautiful advocates for governments and councils to provide accessible disposal options - like bins - and education about the effects of littering. Peter also said the organisation advocates for penalties when people continue to do the wrong thing. “We applaud state governments who have got some positive enforcement strategies in place.” One such enforcement program Peter believes is working is in Victoria, where people can sign up as a community reporter.

For the most part, Peter understands the reasons we sometimes forget to do the right thing. “We live in a busy world, where theres a million and one things happening. Its fair to say that because of all these competing demands, litter is less of a priority,” he said. “Like every issue, theres not a silver bullet thats going to solve the litter challenge. But we need to make sure were taking responsibility for it, putting it in the bin or recycling.”