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NSW Litter Data Framework

How the NSW Government assesses success

When the NSW Litter Prevention Strategy launched in 2014 there were only two data programs capturing information about the amount of litter in the environment. The first was the National Litter Index (NLI), delivered since 2007 by Keep Australia Beautiful. The second was the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, a citizen science program delivered by Tangaroa Blue since 2004. The NLI was used to monitor progress towards the NSW Government’s litter target of 40% reduction by 2020.

Figure 4: The NSW Litter Data Framework
Figure 4.

The NSW Government’s Litter Data Framework is a comprehensive data program that cover many dimensions of the litter journey (Figure 4). This aims to capture reliable information about the quantities, types, and relative composition of litter types in a range of environments at local, regional and whole-of-state scales. The information is used to inform studies of the impacts and costs of litter. 

The overarching intent is to understand how litter ‘leaks’ through the environment – where it comes from, how it travels from where it is littered to where it ends up, and what should be planned and prioritised to stop it. 

Importantly, the framework allows the NSW EPA and its partners in litter prevention initiatives to track progress to agreed litter prevention targets.

The principal data sources used for planning and monitoring progress to litter prevention outcomes are described below.

Key Littered Items Study

The Key Littered Items Study (KLIS) was launched in 2017 by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) Coasts and Wetlands Science unit in partnership with the NSW EPA, Tangaroa Blue, Southern Cross University and a range of volunteer organisations across NSW. 

The study collects litter samples at sites along the NSW coast: every 3 months in urbanised estuaries and once a year on remote beaches. The samples are sorted into categories and counted. Once the information has been developed and confirmed by the DPIE using scientific methodology, it is made available to the NSW EPA and its partners.

The data for urbanised estuaries is in a dashboard that shows litter trends over the years, its distribution between sites and regions along the coast, and the relative quantities of different types. The KLIS data was used to set the new litter targets for NSW in the Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy (WASM): a 30% reduction in the number of plastic litter items by 2025 and a 60% reduction in all litter items by 2030. 

Australian Litter Measure

Australian States and Territories stopped using the NLI to measure litter in 2020 and developed the Australian Litter Measure (ALM). The ALM is a methodology for measuring litter in different land-use, such as residential, retail, recreational parks or beaches. 

Like the Key Littered Items Study (KLIS), it uses regular sample counts of litter over time to establish trends and composition of litter in the environment. Unlike the KLIS, it counts litter on the land. 

A national litter count is being developed and in NSW the ALM data will be used with KLIS to develop our understanding of what happens to litter as it flows from land to sea. Following successful trials in early 2021, the first count in NSW using the ALM is planned for November 2021, followed by regular 6-monthly counts.

Local Litter Check

The EPA developed Local Litter Check (LLC) in 2013 as a tool for assessing litter hotspots so we could understand what would work to prevent litter occurring there. It is a structured investigation that allows any user to consider a site’s characteristics, composition and quantity of litter, and what users think, to guide solution ideas. This approach helps to avoid ‘leaps to solutions’ that may seem like a good idea but are not based on evidence and knowledge of what will work locally. In 2018 the LLC was taken online and is available to the public as a networked tool to capture data, analyse it and share the information. 

Cigarette Butt Litter Check

The EPA developed the Cigarette Butt Litter Check (BLC) in 2018. It works in a similar way to the LLC as a guided investigation of butt litter hotspots to help identify factors for a successful local butt litter reduction initiative. 

Like the LLC, it includes a site investigation, butt litter count and site user surveys. Unlike the LLC, it includes behavioural measures based on observations of butt littering behaviour. 

It was trialled in 2018 with local government partners and was shown to be highly effective in information action to reduce butt litter. The BLC is used to develop the State-wide Butt Litter Index which will be used to monitor progress towards a target to reduce butt litter by 50% by 2030.

What are the most littered items in NSW?

The Dirty Dozen

Based on the 2020 Key Littered Items Study, find out what items were the most littered items found in NSW estuaries.

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