craig reucassel with tram of coffee cups

Grassroots groups have been plugging away on waste for decades with limited success, but ABC’s War on Waste has come along and with it birthed a national movement and an ongoing, urgent conversation about how we must do things differently.

According to ABC impact producer Andy Marks, the program exceeded its viewership target by 50 per cent, reaching 3.7 million Australians and impacting individuals, cafes, organisations and schools across the country.

The series’ first three episodes, aired in May, focused on food waste, plastic pollution and coffee cup and fashion waste, along with many other issues that contribute to the eight per cent growth in Australian waste each year.

In his role Marks works directly with the public, NGOs and third party partners to help them engage their communities in what is now a national movement.

News articles covering the series received 1.5 million page views, and over 50 highly active national and local Facebook groups have sprung up independently, helping spread awareness on Australia’s waste problem.

There are also 42,000 posts on Instagram, increasing by the day five months later, promoting the series’ hashtag #WarOnWasteAU.

It’s the ABC’s biggest campaign yet.

Marks says the breadth of the audience was incredibly wide from young to old, covering the entire population. Forty per cent were under 50 – double the ABC average.

Impact on communities and organisations

Waste pollution is an issue individuals, organisations and governments have been struggling with for several years, yet one TV series seems to have generated more success in just a year.

In the first episode, host Craig Reucassel interviewed a banana farmer in Queensland. He wanted to bring awareness to the disheartening reality that about 40 per cent of edible bananas produced are thrown away, just because they don’t meet supermarkets’ aesthetic standards, being either too big or too small.

A clip on this encounter was released on social media and it quickly received over 16 million views, making it the biggest social media post in ABC’s history.

“This was an emotional piece to film because it touched people to see people working so hard on the land, and having such a passion for that product, to just see it dumped back into the ground again,” Marks told The Fifth Estate.

“It really surprised people and struck a chord.”

Coffee culture was another area positively influenced by War on Waste.

Organisation Responsible Cafes helps coffee shops promote reusable cups by providing support and promotion to cafes that offer discounts for customers that bring in their own cup.

Prior to the series’ debut, they had 420 member cafes, but just three days after the broadcast of episode three, which tackled coffee cup culture, they grew to 1050 members. They now have over 3000.

War on Waste also helped them design a survey to measure coffee cup behaviour, and found a 117 per cent increase in reusable coffee cup use since the series aired.

Some coffee shops across Australia have even stopped serving single-use cups and universities like UTS are briefing students on the importance of the issue.

Planet Ark also attributes its spike in members and volunteers to the War on Waste. For the period the series was on, they saw a 60 per cent increase in traffic, in comparison to their usual 19 per cent annual growth.

Schools have benefitted too

Schools around the country have also reported positive feedback from War on Waste.

The series has been shown in classrooms, coursework projects have been based on the show and some are running their own projects to reduce waste in their communities.

One school even produced a zero-waste theatre production inspired by the series.

Wagga Wagga Public School in NSW wove 900 plastic bags in one of their fences in the shape of a whale to spread their messages to drivers and pedestrians on reducing plastic use.

The fourth episode of the series, War on Waste: What’s Changing, will premiere on 3 December at 7:40pm. It focuses on container deposit schemes, cosmetic standards for fruits and vegetables and how supermarkets are responding, and Reucassel tracks down our federal environment minister to discuss a federal ban on plastic bags.

“[Waste is] an ongoing challenge for all of us,” Marks says.

“We all play a part in the problem, and we can all play a part in the solution.”

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  1. Local government recently organised that we pay for wheelie bin for collection of not just Compostables(to be trucked to depot 150km away) but also replace Recyclable and Landfill, the latter reduced in size. This is on Phillip island where population is 10 times more on busy weekend.

    One particular aspect lighting up local paper is how to handle disposable diapers. Proposed frequency of collection of new, smaller wheelie bin is 2 weeks rather than one. Looking into this further, diapers are non biodegradable, decompose time 20 years. Investigating further, Kimberley Clark in NZ collaborated with another company to include diapers as bulk thermal insulation for buildings. More recently, evidently compostable diapers are possible but not readily available, probably more expensive.

    Going back 30 years, bringing an American Visitor related to my work to our home for an evening, he was horrified to see we did not use disposables, saying even the most impoverished Americans would go without food before going without disposables. For those who’ve never been there, you drop the dirty nappy in a bucket at the change table, then hold it by a corner as you shake it in the toilet bowl as you flush. Then you drop it in a bigger bucket of product, still available, called NapiSan, until you have enough for a washing machine load. In early baby days when its hectic, its worth paying for nappy wash service, also still available.

    Does it suit you to do anything about this one for expected amenable target audience sector?

  2. ’War On Waste’ was top quality television.
    What are the chances that, on the back of its outstanding success, a pitch could be made to the ABC decision makers about a 3 part ‘War on Climate’ series to be shown next year. I for one would be more than happy to help find interesting & peer-reviewed content. AND I wouldn’t be Robinson Crusoe. All the best

  3. I have just contacted Moorabool and Melton councils, and V-Line, about the abysmal state of surrounding areas to the tracks and stations there.
    This is where you can really observe how bad things have got. Likewise on the Bendigo line there are terrible examples of dumping and littering. This issue has been brought to the attention of V-Line and councils over many years. NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED. I have called on this to be agenda’d for the next MAV meeting. This is so entrenched and ongoing that it needs and ‘all state’ approach. Fantastic work ABC!

  4. Great article and I just hope that the warm & fluffy public generated waste isn’t the only thing that’s covered in the pending episodes.

    I’d love for Craig to cover the lack of specification of recycled materials by State governments. In Victoria there is a % of mandated recycled content on major government infrastructure projects. This approach drives closed loop markets. Over here in WA our government is the road blocker for recycled road base. We can recycle materials but we are so far away from populated markets that its still cheaper to import glass products from overseas than recycle it (even with the pending Container Deposit Scheme). so without market development for recycled materials there will always be waste.