National Litter Audit: NZ’s litter problem has worsened since 2019

Keep New Zealand Beautiful announces National Litter Audit results: New Zealand’s litter problem has worsened since 2019

National Litter Audit 2022 cover pageKeep New Zealand Beautiful (KNZB) has today announced the findings of the 2022 National Litter Audit (NLA), the most comprehensive and scientifically robust litter audit in New Zealand.

The 2022 NLA follows on from a baseline audit carried out by KNZB in 2019 and compares data and insights between the two data sets. The 2022 NLA found that, overall, the litter problem in Aotearoa is worsening, with the total number of items, volume and weight of litter at a national level all increasing since the audit in 2019.

Developed in consultation with Stats NZ, the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for the Environment, the NLA involved experienced environmental field researchers collecting and analysing litter in specific fixed sites, recording the key metrics of the litter collected as well as brand data.

“The results of the 2022 NLA are surprising and alarming, even off the back of years of Covid-19 restrictions,” says Heather Saunderson, CEO of Keep New Zealand Beautiful.

“Despite the efforts of tidy Kiwis nationwide, the audit results really speak to the fiction of New Zealand’s clean green image and illustrate the need for government, industry and Kiwis to take immediate action.

“The 2019 NLA provided a baseline for litter intelligence in New Zealand, painting a picture of how litter impacts our communities. The 2022 results serve to highlight that the need for educational and behaviour-change programmes, when it comes to litter in New Zealand, is more important and urgent than ever.”

Even though the 2022 NLA shows a drop in some material subcategories, across the board the litter problem in New Zealand has grown worse, with the total number of individual items, the combined weight and estimated volume of litter nationally all increasing.

Key outtakes from the 2022 NLA:


  • Plastic was the most prevalent main material type found nationally in 2022 with a 72.4% increase since 2019 (50 plastic items per 1,000 m² in 2022 vs. 29 items in 2019).
  • There was a drop in the number of cigarette butts found in 2022, but they remained the most frequently identified material subcategory (34 items per 1,000 m² in 2022 vs. 39 items in 2019).
  • Despite the protocols associated with the Covid-19 pandemic that were in place between the 2019 and 2022 audits, medical waste such as Covid-19 test kits, masks and disposable gloves did not feature prominently in the 2022 NLA.


  • In 2022, glass beer bottles (less than 750ml, all colours) continued to be the leading material subcategory in any single main material type (i.e. glass) for national litter weight (0.09 kg per 1,000 m² in 2022 vs. 0.12 kg in 2019).
  • However, construction waste (a subcategory across multiple material types), when totaled nationally, was the largest contributor to litter weight overall, contributing11 kg of waste per 1,000 m².


  • There was over a sevenfold increase in the estimated volume of the main material type paper and cardboard nationally in 2022 compared with 2019 (12.19 litres per 1,000 m² in 2022 vs. 1.66 litres 2019).
  • Cardboard boxes (a new subcategory in 2022) contributed most significantly to the increase in estimated paper and cardboard volumes nationally (9.32 litres per 1,000 m²)
  • A large increase in estimated volume nationally was also seen with illegal dumping (4.45 litres per 1,000 m² in 2022 vs. 1.31 litres in 2019).

Branded litter

  • Snack wrappers and packets overtook alcoholic beverage containers and packaging as the top industry category of branded litter in 2022, with a leading fast-food brand accounting for 5.03% of all branded litter items recorded.


  • Nationally, most litter in 2022 was found at Retail Sites, overtaking Industrial Sites which had the highest levels of litter in 2019.

For more insights on litter in Aotearoa, please view the full 2022 NLA report here.

Ms. Saunderson says the 2022 National Litter Audit is an extensive piece of research that is critical for New Zealand.

“The importance of the NLA for both land and ocean litter management are immense. The findings will help inform national and local policy development, guide industry strategies and enable Keep New Zealand Beautiful to identify the originators and activities that generate land and marine litter, and to guide our efforts accordingly. We’re focused on education, behaviour change and working with leaders of industry who are committed to sustainability.”

While the results of the 2022 NLA are concerning, it’s important to acknowledge those who are actively involved in tackling the litter problem – many of whom are everyday Kiwis. Keep New Zealand Beautiful’s Backyard and Upstream Battle programmes, for example, provide a way for citizen scientists to contribute to a secondary dataset to the NLA and generate litter intelligence that makes a crucial difference to New Zealand’s land, waterways and ultimately the ocean’s ecosystems too.


For all media enquiries please contact:

Rebecca Reid
027 519 4994

About the National Litter Audit

The methodology for the NLA was developed in consultation with Stats NZ, the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for the Environment with funding from the Waste Minimisation Fund. The first audit of its kind was completed in 2019, providing a benchmark for future audits at regular three-year intervals.

The 2022 NLA revisited the same sites that were catalogued and cleared in 2019 to understand the changes in litter type and accumulation. Keep New Zealand Beautiful contracted experienced environmental field researchers, who undertook the audit in 2022 and compiled data through the physical inspection and visual counting of litter found.

Additional litter material classifications were added or separated out in the 2022 audit to reflect the waste streams created by the Covid-19 pandemic and the change to New Zealander’s lifestyles since 2019, including PPE items, vaping devices and refills equipment.

A minimum of five areas per local authority were audited, across a mix of site types: public recreational spaces, car parks, industrial, residential and retail sites, as well as a mix of railways and highways. More than 40 sites in the Auckland region were monitored to account for the size of the population and for the purposed of the audit, The Chatham Islands were treated as their own region.

The full 509-page report is available to download here.

About Keep New Zealand Beautiful

Keep New Zealand Beautiful is an iconic, not-for-profit charitable organisation that has been leading the way in educating New Zealanders on how to ‘Be a Tidy Kiwi’ and ‘Do the Right Thing’ since 1967.

They are mandated in The Litter Act 1979 as the organisation responsible for litter abatement in Aotearoa. For over half a century Keep New Zealand Beautiful has been committed to innovation in sustainability to combat litter, and continues to serve as a leader in the environmental sector today.

Since the 2019 NLA, KNZB has developed six new programmes under their Eco-Schools umbrella: Eco-Schools, Climate Ready Classrooms, Upstream Battle, Backyard Battle, Kai Garden Competition and Kai Connections (launching in May 2023).

Keep New Zealand Beautiful provides free educational programmes to all schools, with a particular focus on schools in communities that are marginalised, isolated and/or don’t have the resources to provide climate and environmental literacy. Keep New Zealand Beautiful also runs the annual Clean Up Week, Aotearoa’s largest clean up event. Last year, 67,412 volunteers removed over 655 tonnes of waste.

In 2022, the Ministry for the Environment’s Waste Minimisation Fund granted Keep New Zealand Beautiful with a $1.3 million contract to conduct seven workstreams over a two-year period. The 2022 NLA is one of several research streams undertaken as part of this contract. Funding of $50,000 will be allocated toward developing a small-scale behaviour change campaign which will be implemented in the latter part of 2023.

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