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Waste and pollution doesn't only affect the areas where it takes place. It moves through the environment—from sources like footpaths, roads and shops to destinations like forests, oceans and wildlife. A dropped plastic bottle may wash into a stormwater drain, be deposited on a beach, break up from sunlight, and end up being fed to a juvenile bird by its parent.

Waste pollution moves through the environment via four pathways:

Seagull transporting litter

Quick facts

Stormwater drains carry litter
that pollutes our waterways and oceans.
Wind can carry litter
over 100 kms away.
Plastic waste moves through the environment
and around the world, from the highest mountains to the deepest oceans.
Air Water Air Water Water
Biological Biological Biological Biological Biological Biological Mechanical Mechanical

Click on the diagram above for additional information.

The movement of waste pollution through the environment is influenced by a mix of environmental conditions and social factors. These can change depending on the season, prevailing weather conditions, infrastructure, land use, population density and population demographics. In Queensland, the most significant factors are: population density, primary land use, distance to the nearest road, proximity to a waste facility and presence of roadside amenities[3].

There are currently many gaps in research relating to how waste travels through the environment. An early review of existing literature highlighted that a large proportion of waste entering Queensland waters, occurs through the stormwater drain system. Many Queensland local and state governments and relevant non-government organisations are attempting to address this problem.

Fluxes of litter between various components of the marine system, especially rates of sinking and mechanisms of degradation and persistence, are not fully understood[1]. Research is underway to address this issue of gross pollutant source and movement in shallow coastal waters[2].

Catchment stories can also help to visualise and model the pathways that waste takes and identify potential destinations.

Pages under this section


  1. ^ Galgani, F, Brien, AS, Weis, J, Ioakeimidis, C, Schuyler, Q, Makarenko, I, Griffiths, H, Bondareff, J, Vethaak, D, Deidun, A, Sobral, P, Topouzelis, K, Vlahos, P, Lana, F, Hassellov, M, Gerigny, O, Arsonina, B, Ambulkar, A, Azzaro, M & Bebianno, MJ (December 2021), 'Are litter, plastic and microplastic quantities increasing in the ocean?', Microplastics and Nanoplastics. [online], vol. 1, no. 1, p. 2. Available at: [Accessed 11 April 2021].
  2. ^ Ghosh, A, Suara, KA, Brown, R & McCue, S (17 September 2020), 'Sensitivity and robustness of Lagrangian coherent structures in coastal water systems', Environmental Fluid Mechanics. [online], pp. Article-number: EFMC-S. Available at: [Accessed 10 March 2021].
  3. ^ Glanville, K & Chang, HC (2015), 'Mapping illegal domestic waste disposal potential to support waste management efforts in Queensland.', International Journal of Geographical Information Science. [online] Available at:

Last updated: 10 May 2021

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2021) Pathways, WetlandInfo website, accessed 18 March 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation