Understand the impact of litter, including microplastics, on the social and ecological values of waterways and bays

Litter, litter everywhere! How do we best assess it?


Litter is often the most visible pollutant in the environment and there is a growing awareness of the prevalence and magnitude of litter and the associated environmental, social and economic costs. This is paralleled by an increase in the number and scope of litter monitoring programs. The objectives of these programs are quite diverse with organisations variously targeting increased public awareness, better understanding of the risks and impacts of litter, and of litter sources and sinks to support improved management and cleaner waterways and bays. The variety in purposes is matched by a diversity in operational structures of monitoring programs. These different approaches have led to inconsistent data across regions or time-scales, limiting the ability for comparisons across studies. Standardised guidelines for litter monitoring and assessment in waterways and on beaches are needed to enable comprehensive analyses of the nature and sources of litter, how these vary spatially and temporally and in response to different management interventions.


This project aims to:

  • Through stakeholder workshops, identify the purposes for litter monitoring and assessment in waterways and bays throughout the greater Melbourne region
  • Undertake a review of current litter monitoring and assessment methods for aquatic environments
  • Conduct field trials to compare the efficiency and effectiveness of candidate waterway litter monitoring methods
  • Develop standardised guidelines for conducting litter assessments to support Melbourne Water (MW) activities to manage litter along waterways.

Progress to date

A litter workshop involving a broad range of stakeholders was held in 2019 to identify current litter monitoring programs and purposes for collecting litter information. A literature review of litter monitoring program questions and methods has also been completed. Case studies will be implemented in 2020, to assess the suitability of different litter survey methods in waterways for Melbourne Waters’ litter monitoring and assessment purposes.

Expected Outcomes

  • Management tools and a framework to assist MW in meeting Healthy Waterway Strategy objectives to effectively assess volumes and sources of litter, and manage the impacts of litter on waterways
  • Improve the amenity, community connection and recreational value of waterways and wetlands
  • Propose a standardised method for litter data collection that facilitates effective storage and reporting of litter data between stakeholders across the greater Melbourne region   

Project Team

RMIT A3P: Jackie Myers, Sara Long, Vincent Pettigrove, Monica Tewman

MW: Rhys Coleman, Birgit Jordan, Dan Green, Erin Millard, Jesse Barrett, Kylie Swingler, Naomi Dart, Raglan Hawkins, Teresa Mackintosh, Slobodanka Stojkovic

DELWP: Kimberley MacDonald

Expected Completion 2023

Contact: jackie.myers@rmit.edu.au or 9925 4841 or sara.long@rmit.edu.au on 9925 5748

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.