The project to create a Georges River Catchment Litter Prevention Strategy is part of the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), Waste Less Recycle More initiative funded from the waste levy. Georges Riverkeeper received a $60,000 grant to work with our Member Councils and community stakeholders in the Campbelltown, Canterbury Bankstown, Fairfield, Georges River, Liverpool, and Sutherland Shire local government areas, over a year-long project that commenced in March 2022, to better understand the litter problem and create a long-term plan to guide future actions across the Georges River catchment.
Georges Riverkeeper’s current approach to litter has been focussed on clean ups; working with Member Councils and NSW Corrective Services, we coordinate the collection of large amounts of litter from over 200 sites, including parks, foreshores, industrial areas, as part of our Catchment Actions Program (CAP). We have been doing this for many years. It supplements Councils’ litter collections, which include street sweeping, maintenance of gross pollutant traps, servicing of public bins, and litter picks of public places. Despite these efforts on multiple fronts, large amounts of litter are still found deposited in the river, the riparian areas, and the environment. Broadly speaking, we would prefer if we could stop litter from reaching the ground in the first place.
The priority for the NSW EPA is to move beyond clean-ups towards litter prevention. With state targets of 60% litter reduction by 2030 and 30% reduction of plastic litter by 2025, prevention of litter at scale is key.
The development of this Litter Prevention Strategy is not the first litter prevention work we have undertaken. We regularly advocate for better regulation, have participated in the advisory committee for the NSW Container Deposit Scheme (NSW Return and Earn), and advocated heavily for it. We create submissions, for example, to the NSW Plastics Plan. We also try to educate the community on reducing litter and the effects on the environment, through activities like Clean-up Australia Day and Plastic Free July. Our Zero Litter in Georges River project, funded by the Australian Government, is currently facilitating priority stormwater projects as well as delivering litter and stormwater education to schools and the community.
Member councils and community groups have also developed litter prevention projects that have been successful in reducing litter in the Georges River catchment.
The information which informed the strategy has four components that give us and our stakeholders a good understanding of litter prevention and how to implement it.
Investigating where to tackle litter
Whilst the Georges Riverkeeper has a good understanding of where litter ends up in the river, the focus of the Litter Prevention Strategy development was identifying hotspots where litter is disposed of in the first place to target littering behaviour through strategic pilot projects. We focussed on surveying Council staff with great on-ground knowledge for areas where litter may be a problem. We also incorporated local knowledge from the NSW Corrective Services team Supervisors we work with who have been visiting sites across the catchment for many years as part of our Catchment Actions Program. We also included additional information from the EPA about broader land use and the types of litter that are found in certain locations.
Researching how to tackle litter
The EPA has identified 5 key factors of litter prevention. This includes cleanliness, infrastructure, education and awareness, enforcement, and involvement. The best outcomes for litter prevention occur when multiple factors are aligned into a project. As part of the strategy’s development, we compiled information on past projects (locally and abroad) to ascertain what litter prevention projects have worked successfully in the catchment and elsewhere, and to see what can be scaled up. The aim of this was to help define pilot projects that Georges Riverkeeper, our Member Councils and community organisations may be able to implement in the future. The EPA’s Litter Prevention kit will further assist with delivering effective local litter prevention projects.
Identifying who tackles litter
As major ‘place managers’, Councils are on the front line for litter management with substantial resources allocated to deal with the problem. However, most of the resources are allocated towards litter collection and bin maintenance. There is varying capacity for other aspects of litter prevention to be implemented. The EPA has developed an Own it and Act Framework which is a capacity-building tool to see how well-equipped organisations are for litter prevention. It is based on the four enablers: leadership, process, commitment, and permission.
As part of the Litter Prevention Strategy development, we refined some of the questions within this Framework and distributed it to Member Councils for further discussion. The answers provided us and our Member Councils with an understanding of the gaps in capacity, whether it is related to resourcing and grant applications, budgets or other priorities within the waste management space. It also gave us a good understanding of who we might be able to partner with for future litter prevention projects.
In meetings with the EPA, we have discussed how prepared Georges Riverkeeper is to implement litter prevention. We are keen to champion litter prevention especially in areas that directly affect the river. We have some capacity to implement aspects of the strategy, particularly if we successfully identify and receive relevant additional grant funding, but we will need assistance from Councils for permissions around infrastructure, (i.e., bins and signage) and support and assistance from Councils for educational activities.
During the strategy’s development, in addition to consulting with the EPA and Member Councils, Georges Riverkeeper consulted with locally focused environmental NGOs. These are organisations with the strongest interest in the strategy, with a substantial contribution to make, and who are most likely to play a role in the strategy’s implementation. Additionally, we intend to make connections with other interested organisations who have potential future contributions to litter prevention in the catchment and may lead towards engagement with the community.
Revealing why to tackle litter
The question of why to focus on litter prevention was important in the development of the strategy to garner support for the strategic outcomes. If Council officers want to run their own litter prevention projects in the implementation phase, they will need support from upper management.
The strategy includes a basic business case for litter prevention which will help earn support for the strategy. This entailed a desktop review of the costs of litter. Some interesting facts include: the estimated cost of litter services nationally is approximately $300 million to $350 million annually, however approximately 95 per cent of resources are allocated to litter management and 5 per cent to litter prevention. Recent ‘willingness to pay’ analysis conducted by the EPA has shown strong community support to reduce the litter and illegal dumping in public places.
There is strong support for action on litter from the community with Councils’ Community Strategic Plans highlighting the desire for a cleaner, well maintained litter free environment in some form or another.
To get an understanding of the local context, we asked our Member Councils to estimate some of the costs of litter management including: the cost of cleaning up littered public places, contractor fees, and budgets for litter prevention.
Options assessment and strategy development
The options assessment in the strategy brings all the pieces together from the analysis described above. It defines a clear set of principles and priorities for the strategy and outlines the scope of potential litter prevention pilot projects. After consulting with stakeholders to review the strategy and achieve broad agreement, the strategy will be presented to the Georges Riverkeeper Committee. This is the final step towards getting the strategy endorsed by Georges Riverkeeper member councils. The endorsed strategy will place Georges Riverkeeper and our partners in a good position to contribute towards the 30% reduction in plastic litter by per cent by 2025, and 60 per cent of all litter items by 2030 targets; in line with the NSW Government’s Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041.
This project is a NSW Environment Protection Authority, WasteLess Recycle More initiative funded from the waste levy.