Collaboration is key — Tackling the tricky issue of litter together

Litter in waterways continues to be of great importance for our community. Not only is it unsightly and can entangle animals, it represents the impact that invisible pollutants in run-off can have on waterways.

Litter a problem in waterways across the region with multiple organisation having responsibility for management of the issue.  Litter originates on land but is driven into waterways with rainfall run-off. Although litter is the most visible source of pollution in waterways it represents a wider range of invisible pollutants that concentrate in waterways, draining of roads and roofs, construction sites and industrial areas when it rains.

Once in waterways, litter becomes trapped in vegetation and on banks and can eventually end up in Port Phillip Bay, Western Port and the open ocean. Litter does not usually alter water chemistry but it can endanger platypus through entanglements, especially if the litter is circular such as hair ties or rubber wrist bands or it is a form that can wrap and tighten around the platypus such as abandoned fishing line. Platypus litter entanglement can cause injury and in some cases death.

Platypus entangled in litter
Platypus can become entangled in circular plastic such a wrist bands that can lead to injury or death. This lucky platypus was captured as part of a monitoring program and freed from his plastic necklace before it was too late.

Several litter-based initiatives across multiple catchments are underway that aim to reduce litter and coordinate efforts across multiple agencies.

The  Lower Dandenong Creek Litter Collaboration

The Lower Dandenong Creek Litter Collaboration brings together the Cities of Casey, Greater Dandenong and Kingston, Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water and the EPA to tackle litter at a catchment scale. This collaboration is a great opportunity for litter management partners, as well as the community, to work together to better understand the issue and help develop collaborative solutions.    
By taking a strategic view, and coordinating information and interventions between stakeholders, they aim to better leverage existing resources, target new interventions more effectively, and improve overall outcomes for our environment and the community.

Polystyrene in the Yarra

Work undertaken by the Yarra River Keeper in 2020 and published online in 2022 identified expanded polystyrene (EPS) as the most prevalent macroplastic litter form present in the surface waters of the Yarra River and a major source of microplastic fragments emanating from the Yarra waters into Port Phillip Bay (74% of all litter items entering Port Phillip from the Yarra annually are microplastics, including EPS)

Further, their report finds that polystyrene leakage is widespread and prevalent within every industry that manufactures, distributes, handles and/or uses the material. Their analysis identified that the retail industry, which uses polystyrene in white goods, brown goods and general packaging, is likely to be a major contributor of polystyrene pollution, as is the construction and building industry. The report concluded that product stewardship programs did not go far enough to solve the problem and greater regulation at state and local level and was required to drive significant improvement.

Phase 2 of the project aims to get further data on specific industries to create a more complete picture that can inform polystyrene pollution efforts and reduction strategies. An open-source, interactive polystyrene pollution layer will be one of the products of this project and will be available on the Yarra Atlas.


Polystyrene pollution
Polystyrene is the most common macroplastic in the Yarra River. Photo credit: Yarra River Keeper Association.

Chain of Ponds Collaboration

The Chain of Ponds initiative is dedicated to transforming the Moonee Ponds Creek, striving to establish a vibrant ecosystem that accommodates a diverse range of habitats while imparting significant social and cultural values. Simultaneously, it aims to enlighten communities about the distinctive areas within the catchment.

Chain of Ponds litter clean up
Litter clean up by Chain of Ponds participants at Westbreen Creek

Chain of Ponds' strategic approach to litter involves identifying hotspots, implementing behaviour change initiatives at these locations, and advocating for policy changes based on accumulated data. The three-phase action plan includes regular audits, pilot projects to influence behaviour at litter hotspots, and leveraging insights gained to influence policy and infrastructure changes. Motivated by Moonee Valley Council's catchment-wide focus, the initiative collaborates with various stakeholders and received a grant from the Victorian Department of Energy, Environment, and Climate Change Action (DEECA) to kickstart its efforts in achieving a cleaner and healthier waterway.

Clean Up Australia Day conducted by Chain of Ponds participants across Moonee Ponds Creek in 2023
Clean Up Australia Day conducted by Chain of Ponds participants across Moonee Ponds Creek in 2023

Litter Labs

The Region-wide Leadership group of the Healthy Waterways Strategy, in recognition that this is a difficult problem that is a major concern in the community, has focussed on litter as a priority in 22/23, culminating in interagency Litter Labs. 

Three Litter Labs were held where the agencies who have a responsibility for litter developed a draft Litter Action Plan. This plan is yet to be endorsed by the agencies but it represents a good opportunity to coordinate actions across government. 

Litter Lab participants hard at work
Litter Lab participants hard at work

Links to the Healthy Waterways Strategy – Regional

Works to combat litter in waterways benefits social values as well as reduce the risks of entanglement for platypus . The work links to regional performance objectives  26 and 27 in the water quality theme.