The circle of strife: GPS tracking of garbage – where it came from and where it went!

Home » The circle of strife: GPS tracking of garbage – where it came from and where it went!

Litter Trackers is a collaborative project between RMIT and Melbourne Water, supported by the Victorian Government.  The project is the first of its kind for Victoria, and only the second time that litter has been GPS-tracked in Australian waterways.

In a Victorian-first citizen science project, GPS-tracked bottles will be released in suburban waterways around Melbourne to reveal precisely how litter makes its way from our streets to our beaches.  The Litter Trackers project will see RMIT University scientists working with schools and community groups to deploy 100 GPS-tracked bottles in 20 locations across Melbourne’s catchments and you’ll be able to see it LIVE and watch the interactive map that follows the journey of litter in our waterways!

shutterstock_651364771.jpgA staggering 95% of the litter on Port Phillip Bay beaches comes from suburban streets, with about 350,000 cigarette butts washing into the bay every year.

“From cigarette butts to plastic bottles, the litter we drop on our streets finds its way into our waterways and washes up on our beaches,” said Project leader Dr Kavitha Chinathamby.  “Litter reduces water quality, harms fish and animals, and ruins our city’s natural beauty.  To build a more sustainable and liveable future for Melbourne, we need healthy waterways – and that means we need to tackle our litter problem at the source.

“People often don’t realise that the rubbish they drop in their suburban street ends up right here in our rivers and  streams carried by stormwater through our  waterways. The Litter Tracker technology shows us this in real time,”  said Waterwatch Coordinator Naomi Dart “Melbourne Water spends millions of dollars a year removing litter from our waterways. This project is an important reminder for everyone to bin their litter.”


Fast Facts 

  • 95% of the litter on Port Phillip Bay beaches comes from suburban streets, travelling through stormwater drains to our creeks and rivers, and eventually into the bay.
  • About 350,000 cigarette butts enter Port Phillip Bay every year and cigarette butts are the most common type of litter collected during clean-ups
  • Plastic litter (including discarded fishing lines) entangles birds, mammals, reptiles and fish causing injury or death by the thousands
  • Plastic litter also breaks down into microplastics and more than 600 million tiny pieces of microplastic reach the Bay every year
  • Toxic chemicals accumulated in discarded cigarette filters or on microplastics can leach out and pollute the surrounding soil and water and can be swallowed by animals, causing health effects.


Follow the Project
Online interactive maps allow anyone to follow the bottles and discover just how rapidly litter travels through our waterways.

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The Litter Trackers initiative is led by RMIT’s Aquatic Environmental Stress research group (AQUEST).AQUEST works with schools, community groups, government and industry partners to support healthy waterways across Melbourne, through the development of innovative approaches to preventing and cleaning up pollution from our rivers, creeks and bays.


Credit: Barry Paterson

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