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Economic Impacts

Waste pollution not only affects the health of our communities, living creatures and ecosystems, it also has a real and very significant economic impact. This includes lower land values, reduced tourism, wasted resources and clean-up costs.

A report commissioned by the Queensland Government sought to analyse the reported costs for Queensland local governments in managing littered and illegally dumped wastes during the 2018/19 financial year. The report found that costs were substantially underestimated with costs in excess of $59.4 million.

Economic impacts

Quick facts

A ban on single-use plastic in Queensland

will commence in 2021, and will see businesses moving towards reuseable or compostable packaging.[6]

The World Economic Forum
estimates that 95 percent of plastic packaging material (or over $80 trillion annually) is lost to the world economy after a short first use.

Land quality and property prices

Waste pollution can result in soil contamination and land degradation:

  • Waste can lead to increased concentrations of heavy metals, hydrocarbons, nitrogen and volatile organic compounds, such as solvents and gasoline.
  • Discarded items, such as old mattresses, can contain chemicals like formaldehyde that can leach into soils, affecting plant growth and microbial diversity and activity[10].
  • Waste can smother plants and create micro-habitats.
  • Plastic waste can significantly alter soil properties, including bulk density, porosity, saturated hydraulic conductivity, field capacity and soil water repellence[7].
  • Microplastics in soil can create new water channels that cause erosion and dry out soils[9].

Dumped toxic waste is a major concern for land and water quality[9]. Areas with a waste pollution problem also tend to have lower than average land and house prices[3].

Tourism and other industries

Waste pollution can have a significant impact on the tourism potential of landscapes, beaches and waterways[2][4]. Marine pollution also affects other economic activities such as shipping, fishing, aquaculture and recreation. For example, each year the fishing industry bears significant costs of repairing boats and equipment damaged by discarded fishing gear.

In 2017, the United Nations estimated that waste pollution accounted for worldwide economic losses of $622 million per year from tourism and $51 million per year from fishing fleets[1]

The total negative impact on marine industries is estimated to be at least $8 billion per year[8]

Waste clean up costs

The economic impacts of waste pollution include the cost to government, industries, not-for-profit groups and communities. The exact cost of cleaning up beaches and other areas has not been fully quantified. However, a significant proportion of council resources are spent cleaning streets and beaches, a cost borne by rate payers, whether they contribute to waste pollution or not. Costs include the expenses of not-for-profit groups, such as Clean Up Australia and Tangaroa Blue, as well as the time and goodwill of volunteers.

Companies and major landowners also spend substantial resources cleaning up waste pollution, which may need to be passed on to consumers. For example, sewerage companies spend approximately $2 million annually cleaning equipment damaged by inappropriate materials being flushed down toilets[5].


  1. ^ Becker, E (2013), Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, p. 448, Simon & Schuster, New York.
  2. ^ Corraini, NR, de Souza de Lima, A, Bonetti, J & Rangel-Buitrago, N (2018), 'Troubles in the paradise: Litter and its scenic impact on the North Santa Catarina island beaches, Brazil', Marine Pollution Bulletin. [online], vol. 131, pp. 572-579. Available at:
  3. ^ Dimant, E (2019), 'Contagion of pro- and anti-social behavior among peers and the role of social proximity', Journal of Economic Psychology. [online], vol. 73, pp. 66-88. Available at:
  4. ^ Hayati, Y, Adrianto, L, Krisanti, M, Pranowo, WS & Kurniawan, F (2020), 'Magnitudes and tourist perception of marine debris on small tourism island: Assessment of Tidung Island, Jakarta, Indonesia', Marine Pollution Bulletin. [online], vol. 158, p. 111393. Available at:
  5. ^ Jacques, O (2020), 'Coronavirus toilet paper shortage creates havoc as flushed items block sewer pipes.', ABC News. [online] Available at:
  6. ^ Koch, A (2020), 'Hobart' single-use plastic ban an Australian first, but business council says small businesses unfairly hit.', Australian Broadcasting Agency. [online] Available at:
  7. ^ Qi, Y, Beriot, N, Gort, G, Lwanga, EH, Gooren, H, Yang, X & Geissen, V (2020), 'Impact of plastic mulch film debris on soil physicochemical and hydrological properties', Environmental Pollution. [online], vol. 266, p. 115097. Available at:
  8. ^ Raynaud, J (2014), Valuing plastics: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry.
  9. ^ a b Wan, Y, Wu, C, Xue, Q & Hui, X (2019), 'Effects of plastic contamination on water evaporation and desiccation cracking in soil', Science of The Total Environment. [online], vol. 654, pp. 576-582. Available at:
  10. ^ Xie, Y, Fan, J, Zhu, W, Amombo, E, Lou, Y, Chen, L & Fu, J (2016), 'Effect of Heavy Metals Pollution on Soil Microbial Diversity and Bermudagrass Genetic Variation', Frontiers in plant science. [online], vol. 7, pp. 755-755. Available at:

Last updated: 10 May 2021

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2021) Economic Impacts, WetlandInfo website, accessed 13 April 2023. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science