Founded in 1989 by Ian Kiernan, Clean Up Australia Day has become an important date in many of our calendars. The idea behind the day is simple. It is about getting together with your family and friends to help collect litter from local parks, beaches, streets, creeks and rivers. In twenty-nine years, thousands of tonnes of litter have been collected and over thirty million volunteer hours have gone into making Australia beautiful.
Yesterday, my friends and I rolled up our sleeves to help clean up parts of the Cooks River. Starting from Steel Park in Marrickville, we worked our way east along the banks towards Princess Highway (and back). This is a park where all of us enjoy running, biking, walking and picnicking and so we had a sense of responsibility and ownership for making this space safe and healthy.
Armed with gloves and Clean Up Australia Day bags we spent over four hours collecting cigarette butts, plastic bottles, cans, paper, plastic straws, coffee cups and lids and balloons. We even managed to fish out larger items from the river foreshore and mangroves such as share bikes, car tyres, computer cases and shopping trolleys.
Even though it was smelly, dirty and tough work, the smiles on my friends’ faces said it all. It was a lot of fun and we all felt like we had accomplished something great.
The sad part is though that if we were to go back to Steel Park next week and walk our cleaning route, no doubt it will once again be littered and the share bikes and shopping trolleys will be back in the water. It never stops to amaze me just how careless people are about a shared space and how they are happy to turn a blind eye to the harm litter causes to the environment and wildlife.
And I fear that China’s ban on accepting recycled waste from countries such as Australia will only make the situation worse. At least in the short-term until local councils and the State/Territory governments get some concrete policies in place. Like the newly introduced ‘cash for cans’ program in NSW. In fact, I think that plastic cans and bottles were uncommon on our cleaning route compared to previous years. All the more reason for us to lift our game when it comes to reducing waste. Just like Clean Up Australia Day, every little bit will count.
Some ways I think we can minimise our litter include simple things such as:
- Take a reusable bag when you go shopping
- Refuse plastic straws with your drinks
- Use a keep cup for your take away coffee
- Put the litter in the actual (and correct) bin
- Treat everyday as Clean Up Australia Day
- Buy things that have been upcycled from old items