Time for a spring clean

Spring is in the air! For many, that might mean time for a spring clean. But this spring, why not think about doing a clean-up in your local area? Whether it’s a park, the beach or nearby bushland, our environment needs our care. And cleaning up outside is a lot more fun than scrubbing your floors.

Jenny Geddes, CEO of Clean Up Australia, recently spoke to Glimmer about how we can all help the great work they do in combatting the ever-present problem of our waste.

Clean Up Australia has an inspiring story. Can you tell us about that and how it evolved to what it is today?

Clean Up Australia started 34 years ago with an amazing man, Ian Kiernan, who sailed around the world, and he was horrified by the plastic waste in the world’s oceans. So, he came back to Australia and wanted to do something really practical, and organised the first clean-up event which was Clean Up Sydney Harbour in 1989. And then from that one incredible piece of practical action, Clean Up Australia, the organisation, was born. Since then over 21 million Australians have joined in to improve the environment. 

Glimmer aims to raise awareness on our sustainability platform. When thinking about the plastic crisis, what are some of the insights you gain from your volunteers?

Yes, plastic is the problem of our time isn’t it. When Clean Up Australia started, there were a lot of larger items of waste that our volunteers removed from the environment: old fridges, cars, dumped tyres, and things that weighed a lot and were really visible. But now it’s plastic waste.

Every year we get our volunteers to do rubbish reports: counting what they pick up and remove, and sending them in after they’ve done their clean-up. So, the main items they’re seeing now are single use plastics—water bottles, takeway food containers, disposable coffee cups, and then, in the last couple of years, it’s been face masks and everything to do with Covid. But the main single item that volunteers pick up are cigarette butts. And they also are a plastic item, which many people don’t realise. 

Some really concerning statistics in Australia are that only 16% of our plastic waste is actually recycled, and Australians are the biggest consumers of single use plastic in the world. We generate 60 kilos of plastic waste for every Australian. 

What would you say is one of Australia’s biggest waste challenges?

It’s anecdotal information at the moment, but at this year’s Clean Up Australia Day we had 750,000 people involved and the reports coming in show that vapes are a real issue. It’s really pleasing to see that vapes have been deemed illegal, which is a great step.

But there are two different types of vapes. Vapes in a well-managed system, that’s run through chemists, are actually designed to help people stop smoking cigarettes and they do have a way to be recycled.

But for all the vapes we see in the shops and the vapes that are designed to be single use, they’re plastic waste, electronic waste, and they are also deemed to be hazardous waste. There’s no way to actually recycle those products at all. They’re also problematic because they’ve got a battery in them which means they can’t go into the general waste bin because of the fire danger.

A few councils across Australia will collect them via drop-off points, but there’s no national consistency and it puts the onus back on the consumer. There’s no single message about where you should take vapes to be disposed of. It’s a difficult issue and sadly, we’re seeing them being tossed into the red bin or worse, just dropped on the street. So, we encourage people to really think about it, ask questions and demand answers. 

Multiple colourful vapes which are commonly found in clean-ups
Single-use vapes are plastic waste, electronic waste, and also hazardous waste. Canva.

You know, there are a lot of R’s that get talked about in terms of waste management; for example, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are the common three but there’s also Repair and Repurpose and Recover. But I think Refuse is an important one. Let’s just refuse those products because, in terms of the health of the environment, they’re really problematic. 

Finally, how can the Glimmer community get involved with Clean Up Australia?

We encourage all the Glimmer community to do a clean-up. You don’t have to wait for Clean Up Australia Day, which is the first Sunday in March. You can do a clean-up any day of the year. You can register on our website, and we support you with public liability insurance, materials and free bags and gloves. We’ve always found that people enjoy the opportunity to get out and take positive and practical action. We’d also encourage you all to step up and make a pledge to improve the environment, because thousands of small steps make a big difference and together we can all be part of the solution. Share it with us: cleanup.org.au/stepup

Join the Glimmer community (it’s free), and encourage your friends to get together to do a clean-up. Because together we can make a difference.

Glimmer is committed to supporting initiatives like Clean Up Australia, working to help people and our planet thrive.

Looking for ways to reduce your environmental impact? These other Glimmer articles can help.

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