Plastic litter has gone up 72% in New Zealand since 2019, according to the latest National Litter Audit. 

The audit is run by not-for-profit organisation Keep New Zealand Beautiful. 

They found a 335% increase in the total volume of litter, an 88% increase in weight and a 22% increase in the number of items.

In terms of specific types of litter, plastic went up 72% and paper and cardboard litter increased seven times.

Keep New Zealand Beautiful chief executive Heather Saunderson says it’s not good enough. 

“People have a disconnect. Everyone is so conscious of the climate crisis but they don't factor in waste into how that's contributing.”

The audit was carried out at 418 sites across New Zealand.

Environmental field researchers counted litter across public recreational spaces like parks, retail, industrial and residential sites, car parks and railways and highways.

In 2022 they found the most litter-heavy locations were retail sites, overtaking industrial sites which were the biggest in 2019.

Saunderson says littering is going up because of a lack of education.

“Studies that have been done abroad show littering starts as an anti-social behaviour that kicks in around age 14. We’re instilling that message to littlies, but then that falls off.”

She says New Zealand’s clean green image is “fiction” given the increase of litter.

A 2018 study by Keep New Zealand Beautiful found 44% of people were within five metres of a bin when they littered.

“Do the right thing,” Sanderson says. “This is just so easy to change, it’s one less thing on the climate crisis that we’re working on.”

To get in touch with the author of this article, email

More stories:

Half of all cosmetics have ‘forever chemicals’. NZ wants to ban them

Here’s how it might impact your long-wear makeup.

It took me 8 years to get an endometriosis diagnosis

“Endometriosis care, as it currently is, is just not acceptable."

Why I kept my ex’s clothes

Breakups suck but sometimes you get a new jumper out of it.