News ID: 253660
Published: 0958 GMT June 02, 2019

Kids who litter to save environment

Kids who litter to save environment

It’s 11 a.m. on a weekday and a group of primary school students is throwing plastic bottles into the Dandenong Creek at Vermont, a suburb of Melbourne in Australia.

But it’s all completely above board, and not time to call the truant office or the Environment Protection Authority, wrote.

The children, from Bentleigh West Primary, are taking part in a new ‘citizen science’ program called Litter Trackers.

Instead of picking up rubbish, students from 10 schools and volunteers from 10 community groups will throw 100 GPS-equipped water bottles into Melbourne's waterways.

They can then follow each bottle’s progress on online maps.

The idea is to give participants a hands-on insight into where the trash they discard in the street can travel — and the damage it can do — after it enters drains, rivers and Port Phillip Bay.

Two test throws, at Elwood and Vermont, have already been informative. One bottle thrown into the Elwood Canal was found 50 kilometers away, a week later, on the Dromana foreshore.

Bottles thrown into Dandenong Creek at Vermont on May 10 dawdled in dry conditions just a kilometer downstream in the first 15 days, but carried three kilometers in three days from last Saturday, to Scoresby, after heavy rain.

Eve Zimmermann, 11, was dismayed to see rubbish such as plastic bags polluting the banks of Dandenong Creek.

But she felt good to be working towards a solution to litter.

"I think it’s important because when we’re older, if our waterways are all clogged up, and we don’t have clean water and stuff, it will affect our future," she said.

The state government has funded Litter Trackers with $310,000 over two years and it’s being run by scientists in RMIT’s Aquatic Environmental Stress research group and by Melbourne Water.

Project leader Kavitha Chinathamby, an RMIT aquatic scientist, hopes the program shows participants the extent of the litter problem in an engaging way, so they are encouraged to find solutions.

‘‘We know that the litter we drop on our streets ends up on our waterways, and washed up on our beaches. What we don’t know is how fast litter travels and whether storm events actually influence the movement of litter."

Sue Macleod, the sustainability club coordinator at Bentleigh West Primary, said kids loved the interactive aspect of following the journey’ of the bottles.

‘‘If the bottles get caught in a litter trap, the children will analyze it — was it good it got caught? Is the litter trap working or not? It’s giving them ideas to save things going into the ocean."

Anthony Bigelow, from community group First Friends of Dandenong Creek, said the program was fantastic.

Five times a year, his group’s volunteers wade through mud and debris to clean up polystyrene packaging, take-away food containers and plastic bottles along the creek.

Bigelow said such programs could educate people who don't connect discarded rubbish that goes into stormwater with the health of the creek, or with choking wildlife such as eels and kookaburras.

‘‘Some people think rubbish goes into the sewer and magically disappears somewhere else.’’

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