Clean Up Australia Day: Time to pick up legacy Covid-19 litter

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Two years after Covid came ashore, Australia is awash with discarded single-use face masks – part of this year’s Clean Up Australia Day theme.

The pandemic has not only changed the way we live, but also the way we dispose of litter.

On this Clean Up Australia day, Sunday March 6, the focus is on the collection of single-use masks.

“We know consumer habits have changed over the past two years, but unfortunately it hasn’t been good for the environment,” said Pip Kiernan, chairman of Clean Up Australia.

“There has been an increase in single-use plastic items, such as disposable coffee cups, as cafes have stopped taking reusable cups, take-out food packaging, disinfectant wipes and single-use masks.

“Face masks are made of different plastics, such as rubber straps and metal on the nose, and each one takes 450 years to break down. Think about the magnitude of these; we know this is a litter issue and this year we are asking volunteers to count and tally the masks so we can better understand how much is ending up in the environment.

Data collection will be ongoing – there is an opportunity here that the next generation of PPE can have a lower environmental footprint.”

Clean Up Australia Day has been around for 33 years and always takes place on the first Sunday in March. As one million people attend events throughout the year, today is the flagship grassroots community event day.

Kiernan believes everyone can do something to make a difference, from picking up litter to donating to organizing and living a more sustainable life.

“We really want Australians to stop and reflect on how our habits have changed and see this as an opportunity to reset them so they have the best impact on the environment,” she said.

Kiernan points out that even businesses are becoming more environmentally conscious.

“Coles is really making strides to be more sustainable,” she said.

“It’s great to see them phasing out single-use plastic items such as picnic utensils. Anything we can do has a big impact.

“They’ve been a huge support for Clean Up Australia Day. This year and last year they launched the Drop of Good campaign, where Liquorland and First Choice Liquor donate 25c from every customer transaction (the 5th and March 6), and who pays for the cleaning kits for our volunteers.

“They’ve also been supporting us with reusable burlap bags since 2018.”

It’s not too late to get involved – you can sign up to volunteer the same day.

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