Plastic pollution has captured the world’s attention and with good reason. Every day, almost every person on the planet will come into contact with plastic. The world’s dependence on the cheap, versatile and lightweight material has led to plastic being released into the natural environment, causing significant harm to wildlife, habitats and human health.
In Australia, the plastic pollution crisis has led many state and territory governments to roll out bans on problematic single-use plastics such as plastic cutlery, straws, plates and stirrers (the bans do not apply to medical equipment, emergency services, or people who require single-use plastic products due to disability or for health and safety).
With Plastic Free July just around the corner, we’ve curated this list of Australian plastic waste statistics with the aim of keeping participants motivated during this month-long plastic-free challenge.
Plastic waste in Australia
1. Roughly 3.5 million tonnes of plastic was consumed in Australia in 2018-2019, equivalent to about 100 kg per person. (Australian Government’s National Plastics Plan)
2. Australia uses about 70 billion pieces of ‘scrunchable’ plastics – chip packets, food wrappers, lolly packets etc – each year. (Australian Government’s National Plastics Plan)
3. 84% of plastic used is sent straight to landfill. (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020)
4. Only 13% of all plastic used in Australia is recycled. (National Waste Report 2020)
5. Australians use an estimated one billion cups each year. (abc.net.au 2016)
6. Australians throw out 2.7 million disposable coffee cups every single day. (Sustainability Victoria 2021)
7. Roughly 10 million straws are used in Australia every day, roughly 3.5 billion a year. (Clean Up Australia 2020)
8. An estimated seven million plastic utensils are used every day in Australia. (WWF Australia & Boston Consulting Group report 2020)
9. In the 2018-2019 financial year, only 9% of plastic waste was sent for recycling (227,000 tonnes), while 84% was sent to landfill (2.1 tonnes). (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020)
10. Before the plastic bag ban on 1 July 2018, Queensland used an estimated 1 billion plastic bags each year. (Queensland Government 2021)
11. Australian households were the largest contributor of plastic waste, supplying 47% of all plastic waste (1.2 million tonnes). (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020)
12. 32% of plastic waste in Australia was made from high density polyethylene (HDPE). (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020)
13. In 2018-2019, all plastic types had the worst recovery rates; only 15% of all plastics in Australia was recycled, used for energy production or exported. (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020)
14. It takes Australians one minute to produce a tonne of plastic waste. (War on Waste 2017)
15. Over one billion plastic water bottles are purchased in Australia each year. (War on Waste 2018)
16. 2 million Australians said they consumed more single-use plastic during 2020 than they had in previous years due to the pandemic. (IPSOS and BRITA Market Intelligence Report Australia April 2021)
17. In 2017-2018, NSW consumed 1.1 million tonnes of plastic (mainly packaging and household items). (NSW Government 2020)
18. Just 10% of the plastic consumed in NSW each year is recycled. (NSW Government 2020)
19. Only 30% of plastic waste recycled in NSW is remanufactured in the state, with the rest sent interstate or overseas for reprocessing. (NSW Government 2020)
20. Plastic packaging and single-use plastic items made up over 60% of litter collected in NSW. (NSW Government 2020)
21. An Australian university study estimates each person ingests 250 grams of microplastics a year— equivalent to a credit card’s weight in plastic every week. (University of Newcastle, Dalberg Advisor et al. 2019)
Australia’s marine plastic problem
22. Over 75% of rubbish that litters Australian beaches is made of plastic. (Queensland Government 2021)
23. More than 85% of contamination in the Great Barrier Reef is from microfibres. (Queensland Government 2021)
24. In 2017, more than 75% of the rubbish collected on Western Australian beaches was plastic. (WA Government 2019)
25. Five most common types of plastic collected on WA beaches: plastic fragments, cigarette butts and filters, plastic film remnants (plastic bags and wrap), plastic food packaging (wrap, packets and containers) and fishing line. (WA Government 2019)
26. In Australia approximately 130,000 tonnes of plastic leaks into the marine environment every year. (WWF Australia & Boston Consulting Group report 2020)
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- 12 Simple Ways to Use Less Plastic
- 10 Ways to Avoid Single-Use Plastic When Out and About
- 20 Items That Should Be On Your Zero Waste List
- How to Transition to a Plastic-Free Lifestyle in Just 8 Simple Steps
- Where to Shop Online For Sustainable, Plastic-Free and Zero Waste Products in Australia
- Educational Docos and Short Films About Plastic Pollution and Living Plastic-Free
- 5 Reasons Why I Failed Plastic Free July
Cover image by Ron Lach.