Closing the Data Gap

App 3Images of marine life eating and becoming entangled in plastic bags are hard to miss in media these days. We know plastic pollution is a problem that affects the health of the environment, economy and all life on earth. As a first step to stopping plastic pollution in our environment, we need to understand the types of litter we are dealing with and from where it originated. Tangaroa Blue Foundation’s (TBF) Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) manages the national database for marine debris which houses an ever-increasing dataset of over 12.5 million categorised and itemised clean-up findings.

A powerful data tool, the AMDI Database has been referenced in the development of legislation to ban single-use plastic bags in two Australian states, to introduce Container Refund Schemes (CRS’s) diverting single-use beverage containers from landfills to recycling programs, and to monitor the impact these program changes may have had in subsequent clean-ups.

However, some of the data that we are collecting has several items grouped into one category (e.g. straws, plastic plates, cutlery, cups) which makes it difficult to provide a high level of detail. This is especially relevant when monitoring the impact of a Source Reduction Plans. As a result we are asking volunteers to add extra detail in the Notes section of the AMDI Database and App when they are collecting data if they have the capacity.

Plastic Bags: Due to the plastic bag ban campaigns happening in NSW and QLD we have been asked to assist in closing a data gap on plastic bags. Having details on the types of plastic bag, and the number of them ending up as debris within the database assisted government to identify which bags were to be included in the initial proposal for the plastic bag ban. Now that the bans are in place, we need your help to monitor how well they’re doing. For example, if you collected 20 plastic bags in a clean-up, you would enter that into the app database, but in the notes section, split that 20 plastic bags into what type of bags they are (e.g. 5 grey shopping bags, 2 white shopping bags, 2 Coles thick bags, 4 Woolworths thick bags, 1 dog poo bag, 1 ice bag and 5 other plastic bags). This lets us show whether the policy of banning lightweight shopping bags has reduced the number of plastic bags in the environment, or just resulted in more of the thick “re-usable” plastic bags.

Bag Chart color2Plastic Consumer Items: Currently plastic straws, cups, cutlery and plates are all counted and documented in the one category in the Plastic Consumer Items section. Please continue to put this total number in the Total column, but we would like you to document how many of these items are straws in the Tally & Notes Column. Other items in this category that can be noted include how many plastic plates, plastic cups, plastic cutlery, plastic straws and lollipop sticks (not to be confused with cotton bud sticks).

Sanitary Items: Currently cotton bud sticks are included in the Sanitary category. Please count all sanitary items as per normal in the Total column but record how many of these were cotton bud sticks in the Tally & Notes column.

Rubber Toys: Currently rubber toys and balloons are listed in the same category. Please count all rubber toys and balloons as per normal in the Total column but record how many of these were balloons, and how many were rubber toys in the Tally & Notes column.

Foreign Items: Currently we are documenting those items that we can positively identify through a label or packaging design as coming from international sources, e.g. Nongfu Spring water bottles. We would like to add two more components particularly for plastic drink bottles. That is the number of Australian brands we can positively identify, and the number of unknown origin bottles. You will still enter the Label information in the AMDI online database for all the foreign items, but next to Plastic Packaging - Plastic Drink Bottles - Tally & Notes column, please make a note of how many plastic drink bottles were from Australian brands, and how many were of unknown origin, i.e. did not have an Australian or foreign label.

Thank you for your diligence and if you have any questions about this data detail, please just send us an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and our data team can walk you through the process.