Garbage trucks are putting on extra pick-ups and coastal clean-up crews are dredging more rubbish from Sydney’s waterways as disposable coffee cups create a new environmental problem, spawned by lockdown.

The use of takeaway coffee cups has risen dramatically as bored Sydneysiders are left with little to do except take long walks and buy coffee. And along the eastern suburbs coastline, from Bondi to Maroubra, the situation is particularly bad, with overflowing bins and inconsiderate consumers carelessly throwing their disposable cups away causing more litter to find its way into the ocean.

Waverley and Randwick councils are frustrated with the waste load and struggling to contain it, with the high demand for rubbish removal leading to an increase of two loads a day.

“We simply can’t control the waste. There is an excessive amount,” said Waverley Council resource recovery officer Shaun Allchin.

Coffee cup litter

Bins are clogged with coffee cups along the foreshore, and many end up in our waterways. Photo: Brianna Tier.

Allchin and his staff are concerned with local residents’ lack of effort and their poor education about decomposition and plastic or styrofoam coffee cups in the general waste system.

“A lot of people are making an effort and educating themselves, but the majority don’t care and in my belief they’re the ones that are causing the problems,” he said.

Allchin has worked in the industry for 33 years and says he has never experienced litter this bad.

Coffee cups are lined with plastic and taken to landfill by default. They will not be broken down in the landfill process.

“If the lids are put into the wrong bin, this plastic is not separated and will stay in our landfill for thousands of years,” Allchin said. 

“[And] not everything is going into the bins, rubbish is flying into the gutters and the stormwater systems which will end up in the ocean.”

It’s estimated that 2.7 million single-use or disposable coffee cups are thrown away every single day in Australia.

Environmental scientist Elizabeth Wellborn fears lockdown has been a major setback for reducing plastic waste.

If we keep pumping landfill it’s going to reach its limits.

“It is so distressing to know that the bins are overflowing right next to one of the most beautiful environments on the Sydney coast, our beaches are our most precious asset,” she told Central News.

Wellborn urged residents to change the path they are on and move towards sustainability or she said the next generation may not be able to experience the same level of beauty of the coastline, marine life and ecosystems currently on offer.  

Plastics in general waste bins are also causing a rise in no-decomposable microplastic pollution levels. These high levels of toxins are being found in the waterways along the coastline.

Coffee cup litter

Coffee cups floating off a Sydney beach. Photo: Brianna Tier

Wellborn believes we are relying on landfills to erase these microplastics but this is not the solution.

“If we keep pumping landfill it’s going to reach its limits,” she added. “Landfill produces methane which is so much more potent than carbon dioxide and it contributes a significant amount to emission in the atmosphere.”

The coastline is home to some of the most unique animals and ecosystems in the world, but these microplastic have the power to destroy them. 

Take 3 for the Sea, a global litter collection movement, has teamed up with Wellborn in the hope of encouraging more social responsibility society and changing our damaging habits.

“Recycling is far from the solution for dealing with waste the best way we can deal with it is to simply stop consuming so much,” a spokesperson said.

The project encourages change on many levels including; individuals, businesses, councils and government bodies.

Sydneysiders have a responsibility this summer to ensure coastlines stay clean and protected and it begins with individual’s commitment.

World News Day