Activists in Melbourne's south call for action on polluted waterway in Elwood

activists in melbourne's south call for action on polluted waterway in elwood

Residents living near Elster Creek say more rubbish has been flowing through the waterway in recent years. (ABC News)

Activists in Melbourne's south are at odds with Melbourne Water on how to combat the incessant flow of litter in Elster Creek.

Members of the Elwood Canal Action Team (ECAT) retrieve waste from the canal section of the creek and say there's new rubbish every day.

"We've been living here for 30-odd years some of us, and we've seen an increase in the plastic litter flowing down Elwood Canal and feeding into Port Phillip Bay," group member Tracy Harvey said.

"It's very distressing."

ECAT has pulled dozens of rubbish bags worth of plastic from the waterway, and larger items including a shopping trolley, bicycle and a parking sign.

The group advocates for the health of the creek, its wildlife and Port Phillip Bay, which Ms Harvey said was in danger.

"If it were a forest, it would be on fire," she said.

Melbourne Water rules out installing litter trap

ECAT's solution is for Melbourne Water — which manages the 40 square kilometre upstream catchment area — to install a purpose-built end-of-line litter trap to catch waste before it enters the bay.

Melbourne Water's assessment of the problem, and their solution, is vastly different.

Spokesperson Trent Griffiths conceded that litter management could be improved across Melbourne Water's entire network, but said it would not install an end-of-line trap.

"Litter traps, bubble barriers, nets — all of them have limitations or other consequences such as the risk to wildlife that use the canal or risk of exacerbating the flood risk," he said.

Instead, Melbourne Water said it would improve maintenance, make commercial builders comply with proper waste disposal and run education programs in an attempt to bring about behavioural change.

"Litter is a behavioural issue so we will need to address people's behaviour if we want to stop it and have a long-term effect," Mr Griffiths said.

"As a last line of defence, those litter traps are somewhat effective, but the more effective solution is to look at it at the source."

Ms Harvey agreed that increased maintenance and education programs would benefit the waterway but said it would not stop the immediate flow of rubbish.

"The obvious solution is to use a purpose-built litter trap at the end of the line."

She likened it to wearing a seatbelt when driving because "accidents will always happen, litter will always flow".

"[We're] absolutely adamant that an end-of-line litter trap must be possible," Ms Harvey said.

Councils pledge to work on long-term solution

As the creek flows through four council areas — Bayside, Glen Eira, Port Phillip and Kingston — ECAT members believe local councils have, at times, shirked responsibility.

Glen Eira Mayor Cr Anne-Marie Cade said the council was taking the issue seriously.

"We know it is an area that is concerning to our residents and rightly so, but we are working collaboratively [with Melbourne Water] and towards long-term solutions," she said.

At a council meeting this month, Port Phillip Mayor Heather Cunsolo said she had noticed large amounts of rubbish along the shire's dog beach coming from the canals and washing ashore.

She indicated a willingness to consider an end-of-line trap, as well as Melbourne Water's behavioural change program.

"Any opportunity to stop it … we need to do what we can, because it's not good," she told the council.

Steph Hodgins-May, a Greens senator who has lived in Elwood and helped ECAT pick up litter, said action needed to be taken on a larger scale.

"I applaud the local community getting out here and cleaning that rubbish up but there are much larger structural issues at play," she said.

"Ultimately, we need to be reducing the amount of harmful plastics and waste products we create."

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