WELLINGTON Shire residents fed up with people who continue to ignore the environmental consequences of littering are calling on everyone to take responsibility for the rubbish they leave behind, and for fast food retail outlets and food chains to step up and help tackle the growing problem.
Stratford residents who conducted a weekend blitz to try to clear the massive load of waste dumped around Stratford and thrown out of car windows were shocked at what they collected.
In less than two hours, the two women filled the back of their utility with trash from the sides of the road and dumped on verges.
"A daily 45-minute walk along Stockdale Rd is guaranteed to fill at least one garage bag of empty beer, water bottles, cans of mixed drinks, disposable coffee mugs, KFC, McDonald's and Hungry Jack's wrappers," one of the residents said.
At another site, a local bus shelter near the corner of the Stockdale and Stratford-Briagolong roads, beer bottles, cigarette cartons, fast-food packing and disposable coffee mugs are regularly left behind by lazy bus users, or people simply using the site as a dumping ground.
"Our young students waiting for the bus each day should not be exposed to this," she said.
"If not cleaned up by volunteers, the litter and rubbish continues to accumulate.
"A lot of younger people didn't grow up with the 'Keep Australia Beautiful' message so prevalent in the 1980s through television advertisements and education campaigns, so there's a part of the community not understanding how bad it is to leave litter in the environment."
The clear message from many locals is for people to show respect, and for food businesses to contribute to rubbish-removal costs, given that much of the waste left around Gippsland is fast food packaging.
A Maffra mother, who ran a clean-up day with her two children in Maffra in April, is also urging businesses and volunteer groups to tackle the problem, and said litter had become a whole community issue.
"We can't do this on our own - we need other people's help," she said at the time.
While not being drawn into the debate on whether fast food companies should contribute to general rubbish-removal costs in the community, the licensee of Sale, Traralgon east and Traralgon McDonald's, Darren Cowell, said he had always strived to be an "environmentally responsible" business.
"My restaurants conduct daily litter patrols, removing litter from within the restaurant grounds and immediate surrounds, and have participated in Clean Up Australia Day throughout the years," he said.
"We also actively encourage customers to dispose of their litter responsibly through messages on all of our packaging, and by providing bins and signage in and around our restaurants."
According to Sustainability Victoria, even rubbish thrown in Stratford can end up in oceans, with a high cost to the environment and to communities.
Its research shows that 95 per cent of litter on beaches comes from suburban streets through the stormwater system, with nine billion tonnes of rubbish finding its way into the sea every year.
One million birds and 100,000 sea animals are killed every year as a result of being trapped in, or eating, litter.
Incredibly, in Victoria alone, the total cost of litter and street sweeping maintenance for Victorian local councils is more than $78 million.
Fast food wrappers, including plastic, cardboard and paper are the most littered objects, with pedestrians and motorists likely to litter the most because they can't be bothered to stop and find a rubbish bin.
So who are the litterbugs and why do some people think it's okay to throw waste out of a car or into the environment?
Several studies available online try to profile offenders, and controversially show that the people most likely to deliberately litter are males between 18 to 34, largely because they believe "someone else will pick it up".
Interestingly, an Environment Protection Authority Victoria study of offenders found that almost a quarter of those fined in 2014 (3420) drove Holdens or Fords.
Every year, more than 20,000 people are reported to the EPA for throwing litter out of vehicles.
The EPA has a litter hotline service that allows people who witness someone throwing litter from any car with a Victorian number plate to make a report by calling 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842) or visiting www.epa.vic.gov.au/get-involved/report-litter.
KFC head office was also approached for comment.