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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2004  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/06/2004   
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Contents >> Other Areas of Concern >> Environmental concerns and related activities

Environmental concerns and related activities

The proportion of Australians aged 18 years and over who stated that they were concerned about environmental issues decreased from 75% in 1992 to 62% in 2001

Australia’s environment is integral to the quality of life of our population and the sustainability of our society. Public concern about environmental issues may influence actions taken to protect and restore the natural environment. Such actions may be undertaken by individuals, governments, non-government organisations or industry. Individuals may register their concerns in the public arena through writing letters, signing petitions or attending demonstrations. They may join an environmental protection group or donate time and/or money towards the environment. Households may choose to recycle products, conserve water or buy environmentally-friendly goods and services.

This article examines patterns and trends in people’s environmental concerns and related activities in the decade to 2003. It presents data showing that higher proportions of people are taking actions to protect the environment, including increased household recycling; and smaller proportions of people are expressing that they were concerned about environmental problems.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS

In 2001, 62% of adults (8.9 million people) stated that they were concerned about environmental problems. This was almost 10 percentage points lower than in 1998 (71%) and continued a downward trend, from 75% in 1992. Although most Australians stated that they were concerned about environmental problems, only 8% (down from 10% in 1992) had actually registered their concern in a public way. The most common methods were signing a petition or writing a letter - both used by about a third of those who had registered their concern.


ADULTS CONCERNED ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS(a)
GRAPH - ADULTS CONCERNED ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS(a)

DATA SOURCES

The majority of the data in this article comes from Environmental Issues Surveys run annually in association with the March Monthly Population Survey and is published in Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices (ABS cat. no. 4602.0). Survey topics are rotated on a three-yearly basis. Data about environmental concerns and activities and water use refer to 2001. Data about energy and appliances refer to 2002. Data about recycling refer to 2003. Only people aged 18 years and over were asked about their environmental views and practices.

Some analysts have suggested that public concern for the environment decreases when governments appear to address environmental issues, or when other issues are more prominent.(SEE ENDNOTE 1) The lower levels of concern about environmental problems in the latter part of the last decade may be partly in response to initiatives such as the funding of many environmental and natural resource projects through the Natural Heritage Trust established by the Australian Government in 1997.

Although concern about environmental problems decreased across all age groups between 1992 and 2001, the greatest decrease was among young adults aged 18-24 years. In 1992, young adults were among those most likely to be concerned, but by 2001, only people aged 65 years and over had a lower rate of concern than 18-24 year olds (51% and 57% respectively). In 2001, people aged 45-54 years were the most likely to be concerned about the environment (69%) and were also the most likely to have registered their concern in the last 12 months (10%). People aged 65 years and over remained the least likely to be concerned (51%) and to have registered their concern (6%) in 2001.


ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN BY AGE (a)
GRAPH - ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN BY AGE (a)


Between 1992 and 2001, the proportions of people who stated they were concerned about environmental problems decreased in all states and territories, most notably in the Northern Territory (down from 80% to 62%). Concern about environmental issues varied across Australia in 2001, from 71% of people in the Australian Capital Territory to 59% of people in New South Wales stating that they were concerned. Higher rates of concern did not necessarily mean that more people formally registered concern. People in the Australian Capital Territory were among the least likely to have registered concern (7%) despite their relatively high rate of concern.

The variation across Australia may be related to regional environmental issues and activities. For example, water issues associated with the Murray River are prominent in South Australia, while the issue of mining activities is predominant in northern Australia and protection of the Great Barrier Reef is a concern in Queensland.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ACTIVITIES

Participation in environmental protection activities may range from making a donation or taking part in a single event to more extensive commitments (e.g. membership of an environmental protection group). In 2001, one in five Australian adults (2.9 million) had given time or money towards environmental protection in the last 12 months. For example, more than 700,000 people were involved in Clean-Up Australia Day in 2001.
(SEE ENDNOTE 2) However, the proportion of adults who donated time or money to environmental protection decreased from 28% in 1992 to 20% in 2001.


PEOPLE WHO DONATED TIME OR MONEY TO ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION(a) - 2001

GRAPH - PEOPLE WHO DONATED TIME OR MONEY TO ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION(a) - 2001


The relative rate of participation in environmental activities by people in different age groups generally reflected their levels of concern. People aged 25-54 years were the most likely to have expressed concern about environmental problems and to have donated time or money to environmental protection. This may be linked to the higher incomes of people in their prime working years. In keeping with their lower rate of concern and lower incomes, people aged 65 years and over were the least likely to have donated time or money towards environmental protection.

Despite decreases in the proportions of people concerned about environmental problems and donating time or money towards the environment, membership of environmental protection groups has remained fairly steady since 1998. There were 609,000 members of environmental protection groups in 2001, representing 4% of all adults (or 7% of people aged 18 years and over who were concerned about the environment). Landcare or catchment management groups were the most popular, with 220,000 members. Although people aged 18-24 years were among the least likely to be concerned about the environment, they were among the most likely to be members of environmental protection groups (5%). Only 3% of people aged 65 years and over were members.

REASON FOR NON-INVOLVEMENT(a) IN ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVITIES - 2001
People
not involved
Selected reasons
%

No time
49.1
Age/health/unable to
10.0
Don’t know how to get involved
6.6
No money
4.7
Don’t think it will make a difference
3.7
Don’t care/not interested
3.5
‘000

Total(a)
5 733.8

(a) People aged 18 years and over who were concerned about environmental problems, but did not register their concern, were not members of an environmental group and had not donated time or money to help protect the environment.

Source: Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, March 2001 (ABS cat. no. 4602.0).



In 2001, the likelihood of either making a donation towards the environment or being a member of an environmental protection group reflected the prevalence of concern about environmental problems across Australia. People in South Australia, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory were the most concerned about the environment and were the most likely to have participated in either activity.

Almost two-thirds of people aged 18 years and over who said that they were concerned about environmental issues (5.7 million people) had not registered concern about environmental problems, nor donated time or money towards environmental protection nor been part of an environmental protection group in the 12 months to March 2001. Almost half (49%) of these people cited a lack of time as the main reason for this. Another 10% said that they were unable to become involved, for reasons such as their age or health. Smaller proportions of people said that they did not know how to get involved (7%) or had no money (5%).

HOUSEHOLD ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVITIES

In addition to individual contributions towards environmental protection, many households undertake environmental activities. These include recycling, using environmentally-friendly products, power and appliances, and conserving water in homes and gardens. While fewer Australians appear to be concerned about the environment, some of these environmental activities have become more common in Australian households over the last decade. Over this period, state and territory legislation and local government decisions increasingly supported recycling and some other measures (such as water conservation), thereby encouraging or requiring households to participate in these activities.


HOUSEHOLDS RECYCLING(a) SELECTED ITEMS - 2003
GRAPH - HOUSEHOLDS RECYCLING(a) SELECTED ITEMS - 2003


...RECYCLING

The waste minimisation hierarchy of ‘avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, treat and dispose’ aims to minimise the use of resources and energy, as well as the creation of landfill.
(SEE ENDNOTE 3) In 2003, 98% of households said they recycled or reused at least some items. This continued the upward trend from 85% of households in 1992 and 91% in 1996.

The most commonly recycled items were paper/cardboard (88% of households), plastic bottles and bags (both 87%), and glass (85%). Households in the ACT were the most likely to recycle almost all of the items, with 9% recycling all the listed items, compared with 5% across Australia. This is likely to be related to the provision of regular kerbside recycling collections to all ACT households. Between 1992 and 2003, the proportion of Australian households not recycling at all dropped from 15% to 2%.

The method of recycling varies between items. In 2003, at least 90% of households had paper/cardboard, glass, steel cans and plastic bottles collected from the house, while plastic bags tended to be reused (88%) and about two-thirds of kitchen (or food) waste and garden waste were used as compost or mulch. Overall, collection from the house and re-use within the household were the most common methods of recycling, used by 87% and 85% of households respectively.

Of households not recycling all the listed items, the most common reason was that the household did not have enough recyclable materials (74%). The next most common reason was the lack or inadequacy of recycling services or facilities (19%). A further 13% of households were not interested or felt that it was too much work. These reasons may have contributed to the failure to meet waste reduction targets set by state and territory governments for 2000 in the early 1990s, despite overall improvements in recycling rates over the decade.(SEE ENDNOTE 4)

...ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY PRODUCTS

The use of environmentally-friendly products (EFPs) also contributes to the waste minimisation hierarchy, because they take fewer resources to produce and generate less waste than their counterparts. In 2001, 70%of households used recycled paper at least sometimes, making it the most commonly used EFP. Other EFPs included refillable containers (used either regularly or occasionally by 65% of households), unbleached paper (51%) and phosphate-free cleaning products (40%).


Although 14% of households used all of the listed EFPs at least sometimes, 9% of households did not use any. The most common reason given by people not using EFPs was that they were more expensive (37%). Other reasons included a lack of availability (19%), inferior quality (16%) and brand loyalty (15%).

...ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY ELECTRICITY AND APPLIANCES

A very small proportion of households (3%) were connected to greenpower (electricity generated by renewable sources, such as wind or hydro-electric generators and solar panels) in 2002. Solar power was slightly more common, being used by 5% of households in 2002. Although 40% of households purchasing white goods in 2002 considered the energy rating efficiency, environmental concerns played a relatively small role in the choice of white goods and heaters. In 2002, only 7% of households buying white goods (e.g. fridges, washing machines and airconditioners) and 4% of those buying heaters considered environmental factors when making their purchase.


...WATER CONSERVATION

Using water wisely helps to ensure a healthy environment and prolong our current water supply. Although households account for only 8% of all water usage, their careful use of water makes a valuable contribution.
(SEE ENDNOTE 5) A survey in New South Wales by the Environmental Protection Authority in 2000 found that most people felt there was a need to conserve water and had made an effort for environmental reasons to do so.(SEE ENDNOTE 1) A higher proportion of households living outside the capital cities in 2001 had conserved water than their capital city counterparts (44% and 40% respectively).

In 2001, almost two-thirds of Australian households had a dual flush toilet, and just over one-third had a reduced flow shower head (up from 39% and 22% respectively in 1994). These were most common in South Australia and Western Australia, two of the driest states, with around 80% of households having at least one of the two. Their presence in a high proportion of households may also reflect long-standing regulations (e.g. Victoria has consistently had a high proportion of dual flush toilets and, in 1984, was the first state to make them compulsory in new homes). Other water conservation methods included turning off or repairing dripping taps (20% of households), doing full loads when washing (16%) and having shorter showers (14%).

Just over 60% of households with gardens conserved water in their gardens. The most common water conservation method was watering in the early morning or late evening (a quarter of households with gardens). Other methods included watering gardens less frequently but for longer (12%) or using recycled water (11%). Smaller proportions did not water their lawn or did not water at all (both 6%). In addition, half of the households with gardens used mulch in order to save water.(SEE ENDNOTE 6)


WATER CONSERVATION - 2001
Households
Selected water conservation methods
%

Methods used in dwellings
Dual flush toilet
63.8
Reduced flow shower head
34.7
Turn off/repair dripping taps
19.5
Full loads when washing
15.8
Shorter showers
14.4
Recycle/reuse water
11.3
Wash car on lawn
6.8
Less water in baths/troughs/basins
6.6
Use bucket to wash car
4.6
Methods used in gardens(a)
Water early morning/late evening
26.2
Water less frequently but for longer
12.4
Use recycled water
10.6
Do not water lawn area
6.3
Check soil moisture before watering
5.7
Do not water/rely on rainfall
5.6

(a) As a proportion of all households with gardens.

Source: Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, March 2001 (ABS cat. no. 4602.0).


ENDNOTES

1 New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority 2000, Who Cares about the Environment?, EPA, Sydney.
2 John, K (Clean Up Australia) 2003, email, 16 October.
3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Australia’s Environment: Issues and Trends, cat. no. 4613.0, ABS, Canberra.
4 Australian State of the Environment Committee 2001, Australia - State of the Environment 2001, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.
5 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, Water Account for Australia 1993-94 to 1996-97, cat. no. 4610.0, ABS, Canberra.
6 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, cat. no. 4602.0, ABS, Canberra.


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