2021-22 litter data for NSW

This report details the findings from the Key Littered Items Study for 2021–22. It provides insight into the composition of litter found in estuaries along the NSW coast and details progress towards NSW litter reduction targets

A note of caution when reading 2021–22 data

The 2021–22 litter data indicates a sharp increase in litter levels from the previous year which is likely to be due to 2 key factors:

  1. With community activity now returning to pre-Covid levels, litter rates have increased with reduced COVID-19 restrictions and surging community activity.
    • 2019-21 saw notable and comparable decreases in litter which were likely to be impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns which suppressed community activity.
  2. The winter study count in 2021–22 was not completed due to the impact of major floods, and the 2021–22 data has therefore been averaged across the three completed seasonal counts. Of the 4seasonal counts, winter usually comprises the lowest level of litter.

With this seasonal adjustment, 2021-22 litter levels are likely to appear inflated in comparison to previous years.

Given that the new Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy litter program started in July 2022, it is logical that the 2021–22 litter results would sit closely at baseline levels, as reflected in the outcomes reported below. In the coming years, it is expected that the litter data fluctuations seen recently will start to level out and decline. The forecast for 2022–23, based on early preliminary data, is for a 13% reduction from the baseline.

High-level findings

  • The density of littered items has increased by 61% since 2020–21 (from 123 items per 1000 m2 to 198 items per 1000 m2).
  • The volume of litter has increased by 68% since 2020–21 (from 10.99 litres per 1000 m2 to 18.48 litres).
  • The density of plastic littered items has increased by 55% since 2020-21 (from 103 items per 1000 m2 to 160 items per 1000 m2).
  • The volume of plastic litter has increased by 82% since 2020–21 (from 7.05 litres per 1000 m2 to 12.81 litres).
  • By category, takeaway and beverage items (30.46%) are the biggest contributors to litter density in NSW, followed by confectionary and snacks (18.64%).
  • By category, container deposit scheme eligible beverage containers (41.39%) are the biggest contributor to litter volume, followed by takeaway and beverage items (29.49%).
  • Confectionary wrappers and snack bags (15.28%) were found to be the most-littered items, followed by straws (8.14%).
  • By material, plastic items accounted for by far the largest share of total litter, by density (82.19%) and volume (67.16%).

Progress towards targets

Target 1: 30% reduction in plastic litter items by 2025

In 2021–22, the number of plastic litter items per 1000 m2 had increased by 1% since the baseline year (2018–19). Litter data is inherently variable and a single year’s figures should be treated with caution.

Target 2: 60% reduction in all litter items by 2030

In 2021–22, the number of all litter items per 1000 m2 had increased by 4% since the baseline year (2018–19).

As noted above, longer-term trend data is needed for a more accurate assessment of progress towards this target.

The figure below shows the trends in litter density for plastic litter and all litter since the baseline years, showing the dip in numbers during the COVID-19 emergency and recent return to baseline levels.