Litter action

Did you know most litter dropped on city or suburban streets ends up in our waterways through stormwater drains? Litter is a high profile and ecologically important issue impacting Melbourne’s waterways and bays.

Litter action

Each year, tonnes of litter makes its way from waterways to bays and oceans. As well as being unsightly and affecting amenity, litter also has devastating impacts on wildlife.

The most commonly found litter item in Victoria is cigarette butts.

The average plastic bag is used for about 12 minutes but never decomposes. It just breaks up into smaller and smaller toxic pieces.

Melbourne Water spends $3.3 million a year removing litter from our waterways

How you can help

Help stop litter at the source:

  • dispose of litter responsibly
  • join the Litter Action Program or a community group
  • track and learn about the journey of litter.

Volunteer with the Litter Action Program

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) update:
    We’re continuing to practice COVIDSafe behaviours to help Victoria keep on top of the virus. Litter Action volunteer field activities can now resume where state health guidelines can be followed. Before starting any activity, contact your program manager for advice on program-specific safety requirements and to receive a copy of our COVID-19 Control Plan.
  • Training, workshops and events remain on hold until further notice – in the meantime, check out our ‘Expert Connections’ webinar series focusing on ecological and waterway themes.

Rubbish collected from the Yarra as part of August's Yarra River Blitz

The Litter Action Program encourages and supports volunteer community groups to monitor litter in or around their local waterways. 

The data you collect is added to the Australian Marine Debris Database and is used to create Source Reduction Action Plans to help stop litter at the source. The more information we have about the types of litter collected, the more likely we are able to do something to stop it.

Scroll down to read about the program's success at Blackburn Lake Sanctuary, when local volunteers and businesses joined forces to reduce litter in their local area.

Track and learn about the journey of litter

Merri Creek
Students toss a GPS-tracked bottle into Merri Creek, Coburg, for the Litter Trackers project.

How long does it take for litter to travel through waterways and reach the bay’s beaches?

We partnered with the AQUEST Research Group at RMIT on a ground-breaking project to track this flow of rubbish through our stormwater drains. From mid-2019 to early 2020, 100 GPS-tracked bottles were launched into Melbourne’s waterways.

Check out the journey of these litter trackers along the Maribyrnong River, one of the four waterways included in the project.

Learn about and view further litter tracker journeys via RMIT University's website.

See ‘Education resources’ below for primary and secondary student activities.

Case study: Litter action at Blackburn Lake Sanctuary

Blackburn Lake Sanctuary is a 26 hectare bushland reserve housing a lake that flows into the Yarra River, then on into Port Phillip Bay. It provides a safe habitat for fauna as well as passive leisure activities for the local community.

Blackburn Lake Sanctuary volunteers were concerned about wildlife entanglement and litter in the lake, so they embarked on a mission to tackle litter at its source. 

litter action volunteers

Litter audit and action plan

The volunteers conducted monthly audits to identify common litter items and confirm the source of the litter. They created a source reduction action plan, which aimed to minimise litter items from entering the stormwater system in the first place.

Polystyrene packaging was identified as a major litter item, which enters stormwater drains via wind and rain, and then ends up in Blackburn Lake. It often breaks down into small fragments and tiny beads which can be ingested by water birds and fauna. Other litter items included large sheets of plastic wrap, and single use packaging such as food and drink containers.

Local traders take up the litter challenge

Armed with a map of litter hotspots and litter audit data, volunteers hypothesied that the items were likely drifting down from a nearby shopping strip. They started talking to businesses about their waste management and invited traders to take actions to prevent litter from making its way to the waterway. The response from traders was overwhelmingly positive as they took up the challenge to reduce litter at its source.

Local traders took the following actions:

  • Agreed to minimise all forms of waste escaping from their premises into stormwater, especially polystyrene packaging, and plastic wrap.
  • Insured waste, recycling bins and skips are closed and secured at all times
  • Collected waste from underneath compactors –investigations showed this to be a key source of polystyrene litter
  • Pick up and dispose of waste that blows on to their premises, and encourage customers and delivery services to do the same.
  • Minimise the use of soft plastics and polystyrene packaging

Traders actively distributed infographic postcards to customers, informing them of the importance of keeping litter out of the stormwater system, and letting them know how they can join the Blackburn Lake Litter Action Group.

Congratulations to Blackburn’s Litter Action traders

Melbourne Water and Blackburn Lake Sanctuary litter champions would like to give a big shout out to the following businesses who embraced the Litter Action Project:

litter action Blackburn traders sticker


A big thank you to Adrian de Wit, Operations Manager of Arkadia, at Nunawading Home HQ for all his support.

Further resources

Learning resources

Litter Trackers project (Years 3-6)

Litter Trackers project (Years 7-10)

Community groups to connect with

Tangaroa Blue is an Australia-wide not-for-profit dedicated to removal and prevention of marine debris.

Port Phillip EcoCentre: Your Port Phillip Baykeeper monitors the pulse of our Bay, conducting research, action and education.

Beach Patrol community groups: Join a community group to help clean the beaches of Melbourne.

Love Our Streets groups: Support the work of Beach Patrol and keep the streets of Melbourne clean.

Join the conversation

Follow @MelbourneWater on your social media channels for the latest on litter:


Last updated:
20 October 2021