Warrnambool is a city with a population of just over 35,000 and located along the Great Ocean Road, in Southwest Victoria. They are fortunate to have a small penguin colony, a whale nursery and a highly active and passionate community. Volunteer community members have been collecting plastics and other marine debris on their local beaches for many years.
A Facebook group “Pick Up Sticks” was formed in September 2017 after a community member, Colleen Hughson, had been collecting large numbers of plastic cotton bud sticks from a remote beach called Shelly Beach. She first thought that there has been a ChupaChup lollipop stick spill from a container ship, but after posting pictures on social media, other people were able to identify that the sticks were in fact cotton bud sticks. The purpose of the group was to do weekly monitoring at the beach and track the number of sticks washing up to this specific location.
In November 2017, while looking for cotton bud sticks, community members discovered large numbers of plastic resin pellets, also known as nurdles, at the same location.
Colleen quickly created the ‘Good Will Nurdle Hunting’ Facebook page to provide information about the nurdle issue and connect with volunteers willing to collect nurdles. In no time, community members and school children from around the district all pitched in to help collect nurdles with sieves and buckets.
To date, volunteers have picked up more than 650,000 nurdles.
Almost two weeks later, a class two state emergency was declared.
The spill was traced to a nearby sewage treatment facility owned and operated by Wannon Water.
Soon after the nurdle spill, Wannon Water set up temporary fine filters to help prevent the pellets from being released from the ocean outfall.
The Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant is now due to undergo a $40 million upgrade this year. Thanks to the community members’ regular reports and data collection, they have been able to show Wannon Water that better screening is required for the treatment plant, and the company has recently committed to spending an extra $2.2 million on automated screens that will be more effective in stopping small plastics.
Those filters will be in place mid 2020, ahead of the upgrade, and will be able to catch items 1 millimetre in size.
After the nurdle spill in 2017, further action was requested by the community in order to reduce the amount of plastics and other marine debris on local beaches.
As a reponse, the Clean Oceans Collective (COC) was established in early 2018 with representatives from government and community stakeholders (Port Fairy to Warrnambool). The COC has the task of overseeing the development of an on-going Cleaner Beaches Community Program to address marine debris in our oceans. The agencies involved are Wannon Water (provider of the seed funding), Genelg Hopkins CMA, Warrnambool City Council, Moyne Shire, Warrnambool Coastal Care and community members.
The COC decided to engage Tangaroa Blue Foundation to run a series of three community workshops (May 2018, Aug 2018 and May 2019) to help develop a Source Reduction Plan and an on-going program.
Cotton bud sticks (CBS) were chosen as the main item for the local Source Reduction Plan in the first workshop as looking at the data from local clean-ups, sanitary items and especially cotton bud sticks, were clearly a big local issue and one of the main items collected from certain areas.
To date over 20 000 cotton bud sticks have been collected from Shelly Beach in the past 2 years.
Photo from Better Buds Facebook page
The latest big achievement from the community was in early December when Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) tightened the regulatory controls on Wannon Water’s Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Works licence. The amended licence includes a new condition that the discharge of wastewater must not contain visible floating foam, oils, grease or litter. The reglular reports and data provided by the community helpped get the condition back on the licence. Read more here
Since the SRP work started, the community has also launched a national campaign “Better Buds” calling for Australians to take a pledge to no longer purchase or use plastic-stemmed cotton bud sticks nor to flush them down the toilet. The campaign aims to push for a national ban on plastic-stemmed cotton bud sticks, as several states are already looking into banning single use plastic items and sustainable alternatives are affordable and widely available.
You can learn more about the campaign here
Take the pledge by sharing a photo on social media with your ‘best bud’ and use the #BetterBudsPledge hashtag
You can also write a pledge in the description of the photo along the lines of “I pledge to no longer use or buy plastic-stemmed cotton buds and I certainly won’t flush them down the toilet!”
Featured photo from Goodwill Nurdle Hunt Facebook page