Ten community members gave up their Sunday to participate in a litter workshop, jointly run by Friends of Merri Creek and Merri Creek Management Committee, in late November 2019. The aims of the workshop were to:
- Learn about the current litter problem in Merri Creek and the source of this litter;
- Come up with actions participants could undertake, personally and with their social connections, to reduce litter coming into the creek.
There was an impressive line-up of speakers:
• Michaela Skett, Unit Manager, Sustainable Communities, Moreland City Council, introduced council’s new plastic policy that bans plastic use from all council services and operations;
• Stiele Hagens, Environment Office (Waters, Waste & Litter), Darebin City Council, outlined the current litter problems within the municipality and the strategies currently used;
• Micah Pendergast, Melbourne Water, discussed their priorities on litter removal from Merri Creek and infrastructure including Gross Pollutant Traps;
• Wei Heng Chan (in photo at right), student group leader from the University of Melbourne, who performed a Source Litter Investigation on Merri Creek based on litter data analysis from community clean ups;
• Paul Prentice, Litter Clean-Up Coordinator from Friends of Merri Creek, updated us on the current community litter clean-ups.
Some of the “scary statistics” highlighted:
• In the past three years, over 900 participants (that we know of) have cleaned up close to one tonne of litter from the Merri Creek catchment;
• Roughly 70% of the litter picked up from the Merri Creek catchment is plastic-derived - mainly soft plastic from plastic bags or plastic food packaging;
• Most of the soft plastics were either intact whole pieces or broken up into smaller pieces, or remnants, also known as secondary micro plastics;
• Much of the plastic in Merri Creek makes its way into the Yarra River and thence to Port Phillip Bay. The impact of plastics and micro plastics is now well documented for marine ecosystems. Less well recognised is similar impact that plastics have on organisms in freshwater ecosystems, as shown from overseas studies (see reference below);
• There are a number of potential sources, some of the main ones being local residents, eateries (cafes and restaurants, take away) and retail (supermarkets and other shops).
After a delicious lunch, participants worked in small groups where they came up with the following future actions they can do in the catchment to help reduce the large amounts of litter coming into the Merri Creek.
• Encourage customers to bring in their own take away containers, incentives such as a discount – government could support by providing funding to shops undertaking the initiative. Encourage local businesses to be part of grassroots initiatives such as Trashless Takeaway and BYO Containers;
• Join the Boomerang Alliance to lend your voice;
• Eliminate single-use plastics at home, and encourage others to the same (by teaching and leading by example);
• Borrow instead of buy – the ‘buyerarchy of needs;’
• Buy second-hand and repurposed items such as furniture;
• Triple think before you buy;
• Educate family and friends.
Group/collective projects to follow up:
• Revegetate/beautify the Bell St road bridge over Merri Creek;
• Reuse the existing material for construction along the Merri to prevent pollution – plastic, glass, etc;
• Advocate local shopping centres to take away or ban the use of thick plastic bags;
• Deposit schemes, or set up a recycle company;
• Taking a stand against planned obsolescence and over consumption;
• Advocating for better waste management and recycling programs;
• Subsidies for whole & bulk foods.
After the workshop, feedback was taken. The highlights for participants was hearing the breadth of knowledge and passion from the presenters and being around other like- minded people that wanted to help reduce litter coming into Merri Creek. 80% of participants felt confident taking action to prevent litter coming into Merri Creek.
The plan is to have a follow-up workshop with more time for groups to work on projects. This will either be offered as webinars or postponed until COVID restrictions ease.
Tremendous thanks goes to Silve Tynan, volunteer extraordinaire for her passion, enthusiasm and hard work helping put this event together and managing the workshop on the day.