Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyMarch 29, 2023

What our latest litter audit tells us about New Zealand 

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Some findings: New Zealanders eat a lot of McDonald’s and drink a lot of Long White RTDs.

Litter has got into te taiao, detrimentally affecting the health of humans, animals and the environment. In the ocean alone, there is a staggering amount of rubbish – 5.25 trillion pieces, to be exact. Yes, you read that correctly, trillion with a t. Despite New Zealand’s world-renowned clean, green image, we are no champion of keeping rubbish under control, at least according to a newly released report by Keep New Zealand Beautiful (KNZB). 

The latest New Zealand National Litter Audit gave a scathing review of the state of rubbish in our motu – long story short, our waste issue is worsening. Regarding the volume of litter, this latest stocktake recorded 436% more rubbish than the last study from 2019. The study split New Zealand into 14 regions, all of which had increased litter levels relative to the previous audit.

Heather Saunderson, KNZB CEO, called the findings alarming, saying, “the audit results really speak to the fiction of New Zealand’s clean, green image”. Although some categories of rubbish were down since 2019, the total amount of individual pieces and the combined weight/volume of it all were up since the last audit. KNZB’s latest litter stocktake proves that the “clean” part of New Zealand’s clean, green image is definitely inaccurate – but what else does it say about us?

Even after banning single-use plastics, we still have a fetish for the stuff

The number one kind of material found during the latest waste audit was – unsurprisingly – plastic. Even though New Zealand has been phasing out single-use plastics since July 2019 (with the next step set to happen this July), plastic waste has increased by a whopping 72.4% since 2019.

New Zealanders love our nicotine

Although fewer cigarette butts were identified in this stocktake compared to the 2019 version, they were still the single most prevalent item. Not only that but so much vape paraphernalia was found that KNZB had to create a whole new category just for it. Alt and Chesterfield were the top brands represented in the litter audit for vapes and cigarettes, respectively. Although cigarette/vape waste was the category that had the highest number of litter pieces, it only represented a small amount of the total volume and weight of all rubbish.

Vape waste (Image: Archi Banal)

Beer and RTDs are our littering drinks of choice

One item stands out when looking at the weight of the different kinds of rubbish: glass beer bottles. For the second audit in a row, the total weight of beer bottles combined to be the heaviest subcategory of any main material type, although the weight was slightly less than in 2019. Our littering-after-drinking tastes have changed though. Long Whites were the most discovered alcohol brand in the stocktake, whereas in 2019 it was Speight’s. The vodka RTDs represented 11.90% of the total alcoholic beverage group compared to 5.8% in 2019. Speight’s was down from 11% last audit to 10.61% this time round. Of the 13 top alcohol brands recorded in the stocktake, eight were beer brands, and five were RTDs.

The construction industry creates a lot of waste

Waste from the construction sector was the leading source of overall rubbish weight across all the different kinds of litter. This is a logical positioning, however, when you take into account the enormous weight of materials like concrete and steel. 

Chucking rubbish on the side of the road has gotten much worse

Unfortunately, there was a significant increase in the amount of illegal dumping registered during the latest rubbish audit compared to the previous report. KNZB recorded a massive jump in unlawful dumping, up a staggering 340%.

We love an unhealthy treat

Waste from McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Up & Go led their respective rubbish categories: takeaway packaging, non-alcoholic beverages, snack wrappers and milk beverages, respectively. These categories make up much of what KNZB calls “branded litter”. The above categories made up a majority of the whole branded litter section: 

  • 34.21% snack wrappers
  • 28.4% alcoholic beverages
  • 12.82% non-alcoholic beverages
  • 8.90% takeaway packaging
  • 1.32% milk beverages

Overall, McDonalds was the primary branded litter found (5%), followed by Cadbury (3.64%). In the takeaway packaging category, McDonalds accounted for a whopping 56.5% of all waste, with the next closest brand (Subway) being one-tenth of McDonald’s total.

Although the results of the latest KNZB National Litter Audit do not bode well for the current state of rubbish in New Zealand, the report was also a call to action for us to improve. Saunderson said that the government, commercial industries and everyday New Zealanders must all do their part to help us reclaim an authentic, clean, green image. KNZB believes that the case for solving our nation’s waste issue has never been stronger.

Keep going!