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Environment Protection Authority

Environmental Issues

Waste and recycling

Using bottles to track the movement of litter

On the 21st and 22nd March 2017, the NSW Environment Protection Authority launched 40 GPS tracked plastic bottles into harbours, rivers and lakes across the state to demonstrate how litter can travel once it reaches our waterways . Many members of the community fail to recognise where litter goes once they toss it on our streets, at bus stops, on our highways and beaches. This provided a real visual of what happens to rubbish that is tossed into our very own community.

What is the purpose of the activity?

One of the Premier’s Priorities is 'Keeping our Environment Clean' with a target to reduce the volume of litter by 40% by 2020. The media launch was a crucial opportunity to deepen conversations with the community about why litter is an important environmental issue and why people should put their rubbish in the bin.

How were the bottle launch locations selected?

The bottle launch locations were selected in consultation with Office of Environment and Heritage coastal scientists. Locations across the state were selected to ensure our message reaches NSW residents in all areas of NSW.

Through this launch the NSW Environment Protection Authority emphasised where litter goes and how far it travels in our waterways, and how it can linger. The CSIRO found that around 75% of marine debris in Sydney Harbour and surrounding beaches and rivers is plastic and is generated locally[1]. Cockle Bay and Darling Harbour were the worst locations within the Sydney maritime area with 2,456 pieces of rubbish per 1,000 square metre being recorded, and that statistic does not include litter below the surface.[2]

Isn't the EPA littering?

An issues and risk management assessment was carried out to trouble shoot any problems about the release of the bottles. All bottles were clearly marked and fitted with GPS trackers which updated the location of the bottles every two hours. GEO-fences (virtual barriers) were established to trigger alerts if bottles travelled outside a specified area.

Is this a proven exercise? Is there precedent for this type of activity?

A similar exercise was conducted nearly 15 years ago by the NSW government agency responsible for maritime management. Fluoro-coloured bottles with labels inviting people to phone a number to report the bottle’s location, were deposited down stormwater drains. The activity was conducted without any technology and demonstrated the movement of litter It generated significant media interest from major daily newspapers as well as local and regional media.

What is Hey Tosser!

The 'Hey Tosser!' campaign, developed by the NSW Government, has been in market since 2014. The campaign aims to educate the public about litter and inspire the NSW community to put their rubbish in a bin or take it with them. It provides helpful tips on reducing litter and empowers the public to take action to stop tossers polluting our environment. The goal of the campaign is to reduce the volume of litter in NSW by 40% by 2020. NSW is almost half way to achieving the target - with a 19% litter reduction since the baseline year of 2013-14.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority would like to assure the community that the activity, which seeks to highlight that litter can travel significant distances, has been planned to ensure no long-term impact on the environment.

For more information about Hey Tosser! please visit: www.epa.nsw.gov.au/heytosser

[1] Commonwealth of Australia: Threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia - An inquiry into the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia and Australian waters: www.aph.gov.au
[2] http://www.boomerangalliance.org.au/marine_plastic_pollution_blog_8_planning_for_plastic

Page last updated: 06 June 2017