People and Places
26/02/2021
Scouts tackle microplastics in Port Phillip
by Mornington Peninsula Magazine

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1st Red Hill Scout Group leader Shane Dowsett was flicking through the Australian Scout Magazine about two years ago when he saw something interesting. The Street2Bay environmental project, which would include 500 Scouts aged between 11 and 26 from 25 participating groups from Scouts Victoria across Melbourne tackling the environmental crisis facing Port Phillip, was up and running and he wanted to be part of it. He took the idea to the Troop Council, which gave it the green light, and the rest is history.

The results of the two-year study on microplastics and marine life led by the 1st/14th Brighton Sea Scouts, Port Phillip Eco-Centre and Port Phillip Baykeeper are in, and they speak for themselves. With more than 54,000 pieces of litter counted and categorised across the catchment audits from Geelong through to the Peninsula, polystyrene beads, hard plastic pieces, hard microplastics, aluminium pieces, plastic confectionery wrappers, soft plastics and metal bottle tops were found to be the major culprits. Five hundred and forty-six audits across 127 streets were conducted every three months over the 24-month period; 20,190 cigarette butts were also found. Cripes!

Shane explains: “We worked with the Dromana Sea Scouts over 18 months and received training from Port Phillip Baykeeper Neil Blake, who also founded the Port Phillip Eco-Centre. We were given buckets, tape measures, gloves and sheets to fill out as we came across the various plastics we were discovering. Groups of five or six Scouts worked together at each site to collect litter on the footpath, nature strip and in the gutters, doing ‘emu bobs’ picking up any rubbish and recording all findings every three months. The kids were blown away at how many microplastics there were and learning how they endangered wildlife. Polystyrene was a major problem.”

Neil adds: “Around 95 per cent of plastics in our water comes from suburban streets via stormwater drains, rivers and creeks, and litter pollution is having a devastating effect on the functioning of local biodiversity. It’s important to be aware that microplastics can easily be swallowed by local wildlife, and there are increasing volumes being found each year. People may not realise the damage litter has or that cigarette butts in particular contain microplastics, and when they end up in our waterways they can be incredibly harmful to the environment.”

The project’s findings have been presented to federal, state and local government management strategies. Recommendations from the Street2Bay report include picking up plastics in grassy areas before mowing, adding more cigarette bins across public sites, more ‘No Litter’ signs at public and retail sites, and increasing collaborative projects with local environmental groups.

Shane concludes: “This was the first time the 1st Red Hill Scouts were involved in a project like this and we are keen to become involved in more environmental-driven endeavours. The kids were really enthusiastic and did a great job.”

Cheers to our young environmental champions inspired by Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg for continuing to make a difference.

LIZ ROGERS

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