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Editorial: Sustainability masterclass - Clean Up Australia

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March 20, 2019


Clean Up Australia continue to demonstrate what a progressive and innovative contributor they are to the sustainability agenda despite their relative size. This month the community-based environmental charity celebrated 30 years since their first event with 680,000 volunteers cleaning up over 6,830 sites around the country – but did you know Clean Up Australia have been critical to recent policy changes on drink containers, plastic bags and single-use plastic? Their approach is to keep it simple. One message at a time, across multiple levels from government to community, in a way that’s relatable and engaging.

Hearts and minds matter

In the larger scheme of sustainability, we may have bigger challenges than plastic bags or single-use plastic bottles, but they are a visible threat to marine life that makes the environmental impact real and tangible. Clean Up Australia understand that having a single icon provides a point of focus for individuals to visualise their action can contribute to large-scale environmental change. People can imagine the difference they can make when the item is a relatable part of everyday life.

Campaigns like Ban the Bag and the ABC’s War on Waste coffee cup stunt are both examples of how creating an icon for certain issues or waste types can capture the imagination of not just consumers but the government and media to mobilise real change.

Solve one problem at a time

One in ten items found on Clean Up Australia Day is a beverage container. By identifying beverage containers as the most littered material type and providing research that identified the sources and behaviours that relate to that litter type, Clean Up Australia was able to influence recycling policy like the NSW container deposit scheme.

Like combatting litter, recycling is most effective when we target by material type. Understand the major waste sources in your bin, target by volume and focus on one material. What is it made from? How can it be recycled most effectively? What behaviours do users display? What are the risks to recycling? Home, office, business or community, once you have identified the number one material you can start figuring out how to reduce the waste and maximise recyclability.

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it

If you’ve ever participated in a Clean Up event you know that once you’ve bent down hundreds of times to pick up all the cigarette butts and bottle caps you never really stop seeing them. It’s an interesting effect and it’s one of the reasons that volunteers for Clean Up Australia come back year after year. Participating in an environmental or sustainability event helps people see the impact that small actions can make – from both sides. Suddenly, sustainability is personal. You realise the flow-on effect of your own waste disposal decisions as well as the difference you can make when you get involved.

For businesses looking to increase momentum on their own sustainability mission, events like Clean Up Australia can be a great way to kick start engagement from employees. Organise an event at your office or in the local area to make the issue local and personal – and then explain what it means for your organisation’s sustainability goals.


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