Celebrating the trailblazers behind waste data this Plastic Free July | Sustainable Coastlines

Media release: 7 July 2022

With more than 15,000 kilometres of coast, Aotearoa has one of the longest and most stunning stretches of coastline of any country. On a three monthly basis, Litter Intelligence groups across the country visit their local stretch of coastline to record waste findings. This Plastic Free July, award-winning charity Sustainable Coastlines is celebrating the power of this data, and the trailblazing heroes who help collect it: citizen scientists. Now, the efforts of these dedicated individuals are contributing to a Wellbeing Indicator for Stats NZ.

“Plastic Free July is a great time to motivate the masses to be part of solutions to plastic pollution”, says Sustainable Coastlines Co-Founder Camden Howitt. “We created Litter Intelligence to inspire and inform better decisions for a world without litter, and we’re proud that our work with Stats NZ takes us another step forward for better solutions to the plastic crisis.”

Launched in 2018, Litter Intelligence is New Zealand’s first and only national beach litter database. The data collection methodology is based on United Nations Environment Program guidelines and was co-designed alongside the Ministry for the Environment, Stats NZ and the Department of Conservation. The detailed training, combined with user-friendly technology, allows environmental data to be submitted by communities at the highest standard, so it can be used by government reporting, which now include the Wellbeing Indicators for Ngā Tūtohu Aotearoa – Indicators Aotearoa New Zealand.

Litter Intelligence data collection in action.

“Stats NZ has partnered with Sustainable Coastlines over the past few years on Litter Intelligence, supporting good data management practice, and open data access,” says Stats NZ Environmental and Agricultural Statistics Senior Manager, Michele Lloyd.

“This data was first used as a case study in the Our Marine Environment 2019 report. I am pleased to see that this data will continue to be used to add value to Ngā Tūtohu Aotearoa – Indicators Aotearoa NZ. This is a great example of how working together with external partners can provide additional data to reduce data gaps for New Zealand.”

Indicators Aotearoa New Zealand was developed by Stats NZ as a source of measures for New Zealand’s wellbeing and aims to help monitor progress around social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing. The wellbeing indicators are built on international best practice, and are  tailored to New Zealand. Litter Intelligence‘s citizen science data is now informing Wellbeing Indicators, in particular the ‘Waste flows in waterways and coastal marine environments’ indicator which demonstrates the amount of waste discharged into waterways and coastal areas around NZ each year.

‘Citizen science’ refers to the public participation in scientific research — it is a non-traditional form of data collection and is already contributing significantly to the scientific community. Thanks to the citizen scientists involved in the Litter Intelligence programme, government agencies, businesses and communities now have better insights into the health of our coasts and therefore, the power to find appropriate solutions.

Marilyn Scott’s Litter Intelligence citizen science group, monitoring the Waitangi Estuary in Hawke’s Bay.

“This announcement shows the true power of citizen science. We’re incredibly proud that members of our community can contribute towards environmental reporting that informs better decision making,” says Howitt. “Thanks to the continued dedication and hard work of our citizen scientists, we’re now able to contribute to the wellbeing indicators of our own home, right here in Aotearoa”.  

Long-time citizen scientist Marilyn Scott says people often feel disempowered, when it comes to the health of the environment, but since taking the role of a citizen scientist she feels like she’s part of the solution. 

“Our citizen science group started in June 2019 and is made up of 20 dedicated individuals who look after the Waitangi Estuary in Hawke’s Bay. The beauty of this work is in seeing the efforts coming together throughout Aotearoa and the direct action that comes from it. Sure, you see disappointing things of course, like the countless pieces of single-use plastic, or the horrid oesophagus clips on our coasts but the great thing about this involvement, is the fact that there is a further layer here which is ironclad data that can be used for government reporting and policy change. It’s great to think we’re helping restore Papatūānuku and therefore part of a bigger picture, and I for one, am delighted to be involved”.

“We’re proud to celebrate Plastic Free July by acknowledging the mahi of our fellow Kiwis,” adds Howitt. Their dedication, commitment, and volunteering of their time – over 16,000 hours to date – is an epic contribution to the health of our moana”. 

Visit https://statisticsnz.shinyapps.io/wellbeingindicators/ for more information 

To learn more about Litter Intelligence please visit: