Litter Intelligence unites efforts to tackle plastic pollution | Sustainable Coastlines

Litter data programme unites efforts to tackle plastic pollution

Media release: 11 August 2023


On 29 July 2018, members of community group Plastic Bag Free Tairāwhiti and New Zealand charity Sustainable Coastlines measured out a 100 metre by 20 metre stretch of Gisborne’s Waikanae Beach, collected all the litter in the area, categorised it, and recorded the data. This was the very first survey for Litter Intelligence, Sustainable Coastlines’ national beach litter monitoring programme.

Five years on, and the charity is celebrating the programme’s success so far with a Litter Intelligence showcase at Little Shoal Bay in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, attended by Associate Environment Minister Rachel Brooking.

Supported by Ministry for the Environment, Stats NZ, and the Department of Conservation, Sustainable Coastlines developed Litter Intelligence to address two gaps: one being the lack of coastal and marine litter data, which is needed to inform action; the other being the gap between communities who care about the problem and the policymakers who have the power to take meaningful steps to address it.

So far, everything points to Litter Intelligence delivering on what it was designed to do. Trained Litter Intelligence citizen scientists include school children, teachers, work groups, mana whenua, community groups, and government and council employees. Together, they have volunteered more than 23,000 hours, providing data from more than 1,900 individual surveys across 460 survey sites.

Minister Brooking and others collecting litter during the survey.

This significant data set is freely available at and, because the data is collected to the highest standards of scientific rigour, it has been used by the government to help to inform reports and even policy. In 2019, when a snapshot of the programme’s findings was featured in Our Marine Environment 2019, it was the first time that data collected by citizens was included in any New Zealand government report at this level.

“By engaging communities in the science that informs our understanding of the problem, we can better engage them in the solutions. We’re really keen to celebrate five years of community effort and the significant outcomes that they have contributed to,” says Sustainable Coastlines engagement director, Ben Knight.

Litter Intelligence data can tell us things such as litter density, where our litter hotspots are, and litter composition. This allows policymakers to understand things such as how much of a problem plastic is on our coastlines. The data contributes to Stats NZ’s wellbeing indicators and featured in Our Marine Environment 2022. It has also had an influence on policy, with its inclusion in the documents that informed the government’s phase-out of problem plastic.

Citizen scientists categorising litter during the audit.

For citizen scientists that take part in the programme, such as Anne Taylor who monitors the Steeple Rock and Breaker Bay sites in Wellington Harbour with her group, being able to contribute at that level is meaningful.

“I feel positive about my impact as a citizen scientist because collecting data is going to lead to real change beyond a simple beach clean-up. With data from groups like ours around the country, it has the power to change things at an industry or policy level. When I feel despairing about the state of our oceans and environment, I remember that even small things can make a difference.”

Local MP Shanan Halbert and Minister Brooking take part in the litter audit.

The dedication of citizen scientists is just one indicator of the growing concerns over plastic pollution, as ‘ocean plastics’ join ‘build-up of plastic in the environment’ in New Zealanders’ top 10 concerns. The government is taking note: its recently announced waste strategy has a vision of a low-emissions, low-waste Aotearoa built upon a circular economy by 2050.

Sustainable Coastlines’ goal to see 60% less litter on the coastlines of Aotearoa by 2030 means that the charity will be building on its success to engage community groups and decision makers in both litter data collection and using that data to take meaningful action, as Sustainable Coastlines CEO Josh Borthwick notes.

“In five years, we’ve seen Litter Intelligence help to inform government reports and policy, and having the Associate Environment Minister along today is a great reflection of the programme’s influence. We’ve also seen a multitude of solutions taken by schools, community groups, and businesses.”

Borthwick continues, “This momentum we’re seeing gives us hope that our national efforts will combine with international efforts to tackle plastic pollution. Data will play a big part in providing the insight needed to deliver on our ambitions.”

Back in 2021, in a move that rang true with the team at Sustainable Coastlines, organisers of World Ocean Day decided to drop the ‘S’ from ‘oceans’. The reason? What we have categorised as distinct bodies of water is in reality a single ocean. This means that our actions to protect it are taken as part of a global community, acknowledging a shared climate and a shared future.

With the celebration coming around soon, on 8 June, we’re again reflecting on this, and what it means for us as a local charity working on the global problem of litter and plastic pollution. Tackling it here in Aotearoa New Zealand has implications beyond our shores. It’s true that if we clean up our act at home there will be less plastic flowing to the global ‘pool’ of ocean plastic. But more than that, homegrown solutions have the potential to build on positive change overseas, and we are privileged to have been invited to share the Litter Intelligence programme with communities in the Pacific.

For the last couple of years, we’ve collaborated with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, also known as SPREP, delivering online Litter Intelligence training to enable communities to run litter surveys in Fiji, Wallis and Futuna, Samoa, Vanuatu, and Tonga. Based on the success of the initial pilot, the French Development Agency has provided funding to deliver in-person workshops, which will enable community groups, as well as local and central government staff, to run Litter Intelligence surveys and audits.

“The Litter Intelligence programme has great international standing and is seen as a best-practice tool for community engagement in litter monitoring and waste reduction action. We feel honoured to be invited to deliver training to community groups and government agencies across the Pacific,” says Sustainable Coastlines CEO Josh Borthwick.

Citizen scientists sweep the beach for litter, University of South Pacific foreshore, Suva, Fiji.

Waste, plastic pollution in particular, poses a significant threat to Pacific Island nations, impacting food security, livelihoods, and the health of ecosystems themselves. Setoa Apo, the principal waste management officer of Samoa’s Environment Ministry, notes the role that litter data has to play in solving these problems.

“Plastic pollution — marine pollution — is a fast-emerging environmental issue right now. That’s why we are trying to collect whatever is on the coast here at Vaiusu so that we can audit it, and then give the information to the community and share it with the regions,” says Apo.

So far, Sustainable Coastlines staff have had the privilege of running workshops in the Solomon Islands and Fiji, and have plans to do the same in Vanuatu, Samoa, and Tonga in June and July this year.

While the litter data returned from some of the initial surveys in the Solomons and Fiji show a high litter density, Sustainable Coastlines’ data and insights analyst, Carla Fonseca-Paris notes that we can’t draw conclusions about the nature of the litter problem there until we have a number of repeat surveys and a wider distribution of sites.

“We don’t know how long it took for the litter from the first survey to accumulate there. In three months, when the community undertakes another survey, we’ll have information around what’s accumulated at the beach in that period. Subsequent surveys will provide more data, allowing us to analyse litter accumulation rates, which will help paint a picture of the litter problem.”

Citizen scientists measure out the survey area, Solomon Islands.

Caitlyn Prince, one of Sustainable Coastlines’ engagement facilitators, helped to coordinate the workshops in Fiji. She was struck by the contrast between Fiji’s beautiful environment and the litter present.

“The amount of plastic pollution finding its way to the coastline of Viti Levu [Fiji’s main island] and surrounding islands is an issue that needs action,” says Caitlyn.

“I expect it’s a similar story all across the globe, so it’s really encouraging to work alongside people who are working towards solutions.”

Community members at the new survey site, Solomon Islands.

On our visits to both the Solomon Islands and Fiji, the Sustainable Coastlines team observed that much of the litter looked to be related to drinks packaging, and the first surveys appear to back this up. In Fiji, the results from two surveys show that aluminium cans made up 4.5% of the total litter collected, with bottles under two litres making up 1.9%. Drinks packaging also looks to be a large contributor to the litter present in the Solomon Islands survey sites. The seven surveys completed showed that aluminium cans made up 12% of all litter collected, and bottles under two litres, 23%.

As mentioned, more data is needed for a full understanding of the litter affecting these coastlines and where it’s coming from. But once communities have a statistically significant number of surveys under their belts, data like this could potentially point policymakers to focus on things like safe and accessible drinking water, for both human health and the health of the environment, alongside other infrastructure measures they might consider to tackle the waste problems.

Litter being categorised by citizen scientists, Suva, Fiji.

Marine litter is a complex, global problem. While some litter is mismanaged waste that leaks to the ocean, ocean currents also convey litter to coastlines, with different accumulations depending purely on where the coastline is situated.

Overall, the workshops undertaken so far in the Pacific are a cause for optimism about the future of waste and community-led action in the Pacific. Ben Knight, our community engagement director, ran some of the Solomons workshops and noted that there were already plenty of local groups formed to combat litter and plastic pollution, such as Plasticwise Gizo.

“There was also a lot of support for the idea of measuring the problem in order to influence decision-making around solutions,” noted Ben. “This is the idea behind Litter Intelligence, so it’s great to be able to support these communities with training and a platform with which to do this.”

Caitlyn (right), celebrating the survey effort with members of the Pacific Ocean Litter Youth Project.

Similarly, Caitlyn was inspired by the strength and motivation she encountered in local groups in Fiji, particularly Suzanne from the Pacific Ocean Litter Youth Project and Andrew Paris from Blue Prosperity Fiji. “I came away with gratitude and motivation to be as dedicated and compassionate as they are in the fight against plastic pollution.”

Caitlyn’s main takeaway from her experience in Fiji is a great reminder for all of us who love the ocean and want to protect it.

“All of our small actions are a part of a global movement to halt plastic consumption and pollution. There are so many people showing up to positively influence our future, and meeting some of them affirmed for me why it’s so important to keep doing whatever we can to add to this global movement.”


World Ocean Day is on 8 June 2023.

See the data, find out more, and get involved at

Or support Sustainable Coastlines’ efforts to tackle plastic pollution by becoming a regular donor at

A year to the day after it was announced, the government announced the deferral of the Container Return Scheme (CRS). Josh Borthwick, CEO of charity Sustainable Coastlines, says this news is disappointing given the huge public support for the programme and the potential it has to change the way we think about and deal with waste in Aotearoa.

In March 2022, the government announced the CRS as part of a proposal to overhaul current recycling and waste management, which also included standardising recycling across Aotearoa and food waste collections for business.

At the time, Sustainable Coastlines reported that 7.7% of litter items surveyed through their litter database, Litter Intelligence, were related to the items proposed in the deposit scheme.

A fizzy-drink bottle in a pile of collected litter at a Sustainable Coastlines clean-up

“That’s a pretty significant proportion,” says Borthwick. “That percentage is all room for improvement, and the government’s container return scheme is well-positioned to address it. We saw this as a big win for our environment.”

Litter on our coastlines does not just result from people littering and items washing up on the beach, but as Borthwick explains, is often a result of ‘leakage’.

“This is when rubbish escapes our bins due to wind or during collection, and makes its way down stormwater drains to our coastlines. Well-intentioned recyclers like you and me still end up polluting our beaches. A well-designed return scheme would significantly reduce the litter reaching our environment, as well as incentivising people to pick up containers when they find them in the environment.”

Litter data being recorded on the remote Fiordland coast

Revisiting the data after the announcement of the deferral, Sustainable Coastlines’ insights and impacts analyst, Carla Fonseca Paris, notes that 32,828 pieces of drinks-related litter have been collected since the inception of the Litter Intelligence programme in 2018. This includes plastic bottles, glass bottles, cans, lids and pull-tabs, and bottle neck rings.

“Since we looked at the data last year, citizen scientists have collected 8,798 more of these drinks-related items, and that’s just what was found in our 311 survey areas. As of 15 March, these items make up 7.9% of our total litter,” says Fonseca Paris.

While not a statistically significant increase, this indicates the problem is not getting better on its own. Sustainable Coastlines encourages people to take action as individuals, but emphasises the power of business and government to make wider changes.

At a litter survey in 2021, the Sustainable Coastlines team found plastic bottles at a rate 30 times the national average

The charity recently announced its goal to see 60% less litter on the coastlines of Aotearoa by 2030, and views litter data collected through its Litter Intelligence programme as a key way to achieve that.

“Data collected by citizen scientists concerned about the state of their local beach has informed government reporting and policy on litter. That’s a huge win for the people that care about our coasts,” says Borthwick, referring to the government’s ban on problem plastics that is currently being phased in.

“We know the government supports this mahi, and we hope to see the Container Return Scheme reprioritised in the near future.”

While the charity’s waste-reduction priorities are ‘refuse, reduce, and reuse’, recycling still has an important role to play. “It definitely has its place,” says Borthwick, “A functioning recycling system will make a big difference to our waste problem, but a circular economy with reusable containers is where we should eventually aim.”

The CRS has significant public support, with 91% of submissions supporting the scheme, and would represent a step towards redesigning how we deal with waste in Aotearoa.

Litter Intelligence
Run by Sustainable Coastlines, Litter Intelligence is Aotearoa’s first national litter database. It enables citizen scientists to collect litter data suitable for reporting at the highest levels. Four times a year, citizen scientists survey the same 1,000m2 section of beach. The resulting data helps to paint a picture of the litter in Aotearoa, helping to inform decision-makers tackling the problem.

The data is freely available at

This week is Seaweek, Aotearoa’s celebration of the sea, and ocean charity Sustainable Coastlines is ramping up efforts to protect our ocean. Waste, plastic pollution in particular, contributes to climate change and threatens both marine habitats and human health. It is an issue that demands urgent, dedicated attention, which is why Sustainable Coastlines is renewing its focus on clean beaches with an ambitious goal: reduce coastal litter by 60% by 2030.

When Sustainable Coastlines was founded in 2009, beach clean-ups were a fairly fringe activity. But the problem was big — Sustainable Coastlines’ first clean-up on Aotea Great Barrier saw 2.8 tonnes of litter removed from the remote island, with another 3.1 tonnes pulled from the same location a year later.

For co-founders Sam Judd and Camden Howitt, finding the situation worse just a year on told them that while beach clean-ups themselves were important, the amount of litter on our beaches wasn’t going to change without behaviour and policy change. Since then, Sustainable Coastlines has inspired communities across Aotearoa to take action at their local beach through clean-ups and education, and helped to nurture growing public interest in the issue of beach litter.

A volunteer removes rope littered on Rangitoto during one of Sustainable Coastlines’ island clean-up days.

To measure national progress towards its 60% goal, Sustainable Coastlines will use data from its Litter Intelligence programme. According to Community Engagement Director, Ben Knight, litter data will also be key to informing policy and action to reduce the amount of rubbish that ends up on the beach.

“We’ve already made headway informing policy change through Litter Intelligence. Citizen science data helped to inform the nationwide phase-out of hard-to-recycle plastics that’s currently underway,” says Knight.

“Litter data collection is a great way to engage and empower communities to take action for their local beach, but it also contributes invaluable data that’s available for anyone to use.”

It’s in this intersection of community action and policy change that the charity can reduce the amount of rubbish found on our coastlines, says Sustainable Coastlines CEO, Josh Borthwick.

A Litter Intelligence citizen scientist displays some of her findings on Kāpiti Island. Credit: Ministry for the Environment.

Hon David Parker, Minister for the Environment has previously highlighted the Litter Intelligence data set as, “a huge advantage to the Ministry for the Environment as a public policy tool, as it shows the areas that are most problematic and highlights to us the things that can be fixed.”

Sustainable Coastlines’ renewed focus on litter means that it will no longer be running its riparian planting programme, Love Your Water, which was established in 2014 and has seen volunteers plant more than 330,000 trees beside Aotearoa’s waterways.

“The decision to focus solely on litter was tough. Love Your Water — and all the people that got behind it, from volunteers to funders — has made a strong contribution to healthier waterways over the years. But the issue of waste is where Sustainable Coastlines can make the biggest difference to our environment,” says Borthwick.

Volunteers celebrate at the Hirepool Big Clean, a Sustainable Coastlines-run event during Seaweek.

According to Borthwick, this new strategic direction will allow the charity a greater focus on litter data to inspire insights and action around the problem, and we can expect more of the fun and inspiring beach clean-up days that Sustainable Coastlines is known for, including several events during Seaweek.

“We’re building the clearest picture of the litter problem on Aotearoa’s beaches, which ultimately impacts our oceans. You can’t change what you can’t measure and you can’t unsee the tohu, or signs, once they’re visible, so it’s our belief that the insight from this data will drive the change we need to forge a sustainable way forward.”

“We’re also having a pretty great time doing this, and would love to see some new faces at our events. So we extend the invitation to everyone to come along to our Seaweek events, have some fun looking after the places you love, and get cracking on progress on our new goal.”

Register for Sustainable Coastlines events at

Seaweek events
Sat 11 March, Hirepool Big Clean, Petone, WLG
Sat 11 March, Estuary Edge Clean-up, Te Ihutai/ Avon-Heathcote Estuary, CHCH
Sat 11 March, Seaweek Celebration, St Mary’s Bay, AKL
Sun 12 Mar, ‘The Ocean’ event, Sumner Centre, CHCH

Big news for Sustainable Coastlines comes today, with Co-founder and Programmes Director Camden Howitt announcing he is moving on from the charity after nearly 14 years of mahi for our oceans.

Since early 2009, Camden has been a driving force for solutions to ocean pollution. Alongside co-founder Sam Judd, Camden designed and delivered programmes that have removed 1.7 million litres of litter from coastlines, planted 330,000 trees to restore waterways, engaged 150,000 volunteers and provided education for ocean action to 250,000 people.

More recently, Camden spearheaded the 2018 launch of the charity’s newest, award-winning programme Litter Intelligence, training ‘citizen scientists’ at over 300 beaches nationwide to monitor and take action on marine litter and plastic pollution.

A passionate advocate for our moana and awa, Camden has delivered community-based environmental solutions for Sustainable Coastlines around Aotearoa and the Pacific. With his years of strategy, community engagement and programme design experience, Camden combines a deep connection with the outdoors with a drive for collaboration to build large-scale change. A regular contributor to national, regional and global dialogue on sustainability, Camden is an expert at creating innovative solutions that work.

Reflecting on his departure, Camden said that while it was a tough decision, the time was right and he leaves a legacy of well-established programmes and a great team to continue the mahi.

“I’m super excited about the next stage of my journey, and the opportunity to address some of the greatest sustainability challenges Aotearoa faces,” says Camden. “My love for our oceans, and my drive to protect them, is stronger than ever, and I’m committed to continuing to push for better outcomes for our moana.”

Camden (left) at a tree-planting event at Auckland’s Puhinui Reserve

While he is finishing up his Programmes Director role at Sustainable Coastlines, Camden will continue his ongoing mahi to solve plastic pollution through his membership of the Aotearoa Plastic Pollution Alliance, as a Litter Intelligence Citizen Scientist, and through his daily actions.

Announcing Camden’s departure, Sustainable Coastlines Chair Samantha Walmsley-Bartlett said the Board was sad to see Camden move on, but is excited to see the contributions he will continue to make to regenerate te taiao.

“Camden has embodied a passion for restoring and protecting the natural beauty of our coastline. I would like to thank him for his significant contribution to the charity and we all wish him the greatest of success in the future,” says Walmsley-Bartlett.

Camden and the SC whānau at an event at The Flagship Education Centre

“I’m proud of everything our wonderful whānau has achieved over the years, and I consider myself lucky to have been surrounded by so many brilliant, passionate people along the way,” added Howitt.

“I want to thank our Sustainable Coastlines team, our Board, our unwavering partners and supporters, and our incredible network of volunteers who turn up time and time again. Without you Sustainable Coastlines could not have existed, but with you, I know it will continue to thrive.”

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 for more information 

To learn more about Litter Intelligence please visit:

Top 10 Plastic Pollution Offenders

Plus their plastic-free counterparts


To give you some motivation for Plastic Free July and beyond, we’re sharing the top 10 plastic items found in our Litter Intelligence beach surveys, and some tips on how to avoid them!

As of 29 June 2022, plastic and foamed plastic together represent 75% of the total litter we find in our beach survey areas across Aotearoa, by number of items (not weight or mass). 

At any time on the Litter Intelligence Insights page, you can see the most commonly found litter in our beach survey areas.

This data is thanks to the Litter Intelligence citizen scientists across Aotearoa, who visit their local beach every three months and conduct a litter survey. The data they collect give us awesome insights into the state of our coastlines and what we can do about it. Ngā mihi nui to these fantastic volunteers!

Photo: Ministry for the Environment. Citizen scientists conducting a survey on Kāpiti Island.
MFE Beach cleanup project on Kāpiti Island with Sustainable Coastlines crew & Department of Conservation.
24/09/2021 Photographer Jeff McEwan / Capture Studios
SCL_Auckland Council Staff Day@Taumanu Reserve_21.04.21_139

#10: Lollipop sticks

4,590 items, 1.3% of all items

If you’re ever surprised by your child coming home from school and telling you not to buy lollipops anymore, they’ve probably had a presentation from us. The ridiculous number of lollipop sticks on our coastline and the impact they have on marine life is often one of our key takeaways.

Use instead: this one’s easy. Most lollies don’t have sticks! Even better, get some without plastic wrap from your local bulk store.

Top 10 carousels

#9: Food containers

5,910 items, 1.7% of all items

Plastic takeaway boxes, yoghurt pottles, soy sauce fish — sadly, a lot of the items we use day-to-day for convenience end up on our coastlines. 

Use instead: we recommend small steps with this one as it can be hard to cut everything out at once. Our number-one tip is to get some good-quality reusable food containers (keep using your plastic ones if that’s what you’ve got), and take them with you to work to fill up at your favourite lunch spot, or your takeaway shop for dinner.

SCL_Auckland Council Staff Day@Taumanu Reserve_21.04.21_224 copy

#8: Unidentifiable foamed plastic fragments

6,627 items, 1.9% of all items

This category is made up of little bits of foamed plastic that are so fragmented we can’t identify them! Let’s be honest, some of this stuff, like polystyrene, just breaks up in your hands. The smaller it is, the harder it is to get out of our ecosystems, which is why it’s super important to not let it get there in the first place.

Use instead: We’re stoked that polystyrene takeaway containers are being banned from late 2022! But foamed plastic is also often used to keep fragile things safe during shipping, like the foam netting used to protect wine bottles or mangoes, and those awful packing beans! If you’re getting something shipped, ask the supplier if they have a biodegradable alternative, like good old brown paper — the more people that ask, the more likely they will listen!

#7: Bottle caps & lids

13,898 items, 4% of all items

We’ve all spotted these in the sand, so this one should come as no surprise. As you’ll see when we get to #1, plastic bottle caps are made even more dangerous to wildlife when they break up into smaller, more consumable, pieces, which they do easily — so grab ’em while they’re big.

Use instead: your reusable drink bottle! If you want something fizzy to go with your fish and chips, opt for aluminium cans or make your own fizz at home. Milk-bottle tops are frequent offenders in this category, so find out whether you have a local spot that will refill glass bottles.

Cigarette butts SCL_Auckland Council Staff Day@Taumanu Reserve_21.04.21_99

#6: Cigarettes, butts & filters

14,590 items, 4.2% of all items

We’re pretty sure that a lot of people we see flicking their cigarettes out the window don’t realise that CIGARETTE BUTTS AND FILTERS DO NOT BREAK DOWN! Sorry for the shouty caps, but this one we really want to shout from the rooftops. They also leach gross toxins into the water and can be consumed by marine life. Ugh. 

Use instead: well, we’d love to suggest you stop smoking because we care about you. But if you must, an easy solution is carrying an empty mint tin as a portable ashtray. Note that vaping is no better — we find a lot of those refill cartridges on the beach too.


#5: Unidentifiable soft plastic fragments

15,131 items, 4.4% of all items

You know what we’re not finding many of anymore? Plastic bags, thanks to 2019’s ban! But we’re still finding bits of them, just more and more broken up. Any plastic that spends time out in the elements will break up and become unidentifiable (and easier for marine life to swallow). These ‘unidentifiable’ pieces were originally items such as food wrappers, pallet wrap — any soft-plastic packaging, really.

Use instead: this is a big category, so there’s no single answer. But we recommend you pay a visit to your local bulk shop and see which items you would happily swap the packaged version for and build it from there. Also, if you’re at the beach and have plastic packaging to dispose of, consider taking them home rather than use the beach bins — soft plastics are expert escape artists, especially when caught by a sea breeze.

Rope Rangitoto 27:03:2021 Irena Cima0 copy_resized

#4: Rope (plastic)

16,260 items, 4.7% of all items

The number-four most commonly found plastic on our beaches is plastic rope! You’ve probably seen the havoc rope can cause to marine life minding their own business, with the devastating result often found washed up on our beaches. Rope is all over our coastline (by weight it ranks #1) and there’s even more floating in the moana.

Use instead: rope made of natural fibre (e.g. hemp) has been used for ocean expeditions for centuries, so there’s no reason we can’t make this switch! It’s still important to be responsible with its disposal when it reaches the end of its life. If you don’t use rope in your day-to-day, you can help out by removing it from the beach when you see it, and if there’s too much, tell your local council.

Polystyrene takeaway

#3: Polystyrene insulation or packaging

16,409 items, 4.8% of all items

Taking out the bronze medal for most commonly found plastics on the beach is the crowd-favourite: polystyrene! Ever taken a sip out of a polystyrene cup and accidently taken a bite out of it? No…? Anyway, you know how easily this rubbish breaks up, making infiltrating our ecosystems light work.

Use instead: Happily, polystyrene takeaway containers are being phased out in late 2022 as part of the government’s plan to tackle problem plastics. So fingers crossed we see this knocked off the podium soon! If your local takeaway still uses these containers, take along your own container and kindly remind them of the upcoming ban.

5IVHQ 2019

#2: Food wrappers

24,127 items, 7% of all items

Imagine you’re a honu, a sea turtle, cruising the ocean, looking for a feed. An amorphous object catches your eye. A jellyfish — awesome. You chow it down, but it’s tasteless, hard to swallow, and who knows what it’s going to do to you. It’s a food wrapper, and these make up some of those ‘soft plastic fragments’ we saw at #5.

Use instead: Get some reusable produce bags, visit your local bulk store with some refillable containers, and maybe let your fav brands know you’re keen to move away from plastic. Getting in the habit of prepping your own snacks at home is also a great way to save plastic (and money).

Plastic waste breaks down into tiny pieces which are consumed by marine animals

#1: Unidentifiable hard plastic fragments

92,043 items, 26.9% of all items

*Note that we only count items over 5mm in size, so this does not include microplastics.

Taking out the top spot is the hard-to-say (and even harder to digest) unidentifiable hard plastic fragments! You’ve probably seen the news articles on toroa (albatross) parents regurgitating plastic fragments for their chicks. The longer a piece of plastic is out in the elements, the more fragile it becomes, and when it breaks up, it’s much more likely to be swallowed by our beautiful marine life.

Use instead: unidentifiable hard plastic fragments are made up of lots of different types of products, so there’s no single answer. But the ubiquity of these fragments is a great motivation to reconsider any plastic you use in your daily life. Getting plastic out of our lives (and our moana) is a journey for all of us, so don’t be too hard on yourself if there’s something you can’t give up just yet. Start small and build from there!

All the best for your plastic-free journey! For more Plastic Free July inspiration and tips, check out our resources below, or explore more litter data at the Litter Intelligence Insights page.

Programme Coordinator

Job Description

Love our coastlines? Want to play a key role in restoring and protecting them? Are you community focused with an epic ability to bring people together towards a shared kaupapa? If you’ve had experience working with community groups and mana whenua and ideally in the environmental space and you are based in Christchurch – you could be just the people we’re looking for.

About Us

Established in April 2009, the Sustainable Coastlines Charitable Trust is a multi award-winning New Zealand charity that exists to connect people to nature and inspire change. Our long-term, shared vision is to restore the mauri for our moana and our mission is to support communities around Aotearoa to prevent litter and restore waterways. We want to see beautiful beaches / oneone kōrekoreko, healthy waters / waiora and inspired people / tāngata whakaohooho. We believe we can be part of a solution, working with local communities,  government and business across Aotearoa and the world.

We deliver and support large-scale coastal clean-up events, educational programmes, public awareness campaigns, catchment-based freshwater restoration and citizen science activities to collect environmental data. We also enable others by supporting ‘Do It Yourself’ efforts and training groups to run their own events.

The Role

We’re looking for a new member of our programmes delivery team to facilitate the rollout of the “on-the-ground” components of the Love Your Water and Love Your Coast programmes, in conjunction with colleagues, to deliver the world-class mahi Sustainable Coastlines is known for.

This position will require specialisation within the Love Your Water space with the expectation that our planting, maintenance and monitoring projects are always working to best practice and are established in collaboration with local community groups and mana whenua.

Working with the support and guidance of our Programme Manager, the purpose of this position is to coordinate and implement waterway restoration projects, with a focus on the Porirua catchment, as well as lead Love Your Coast beach clean-up projects and campaigns across the wider Wellington region. This includes but is not limited to: school education and events, corporate events, sponsor projects, monitoring and evaluation, training and support and training workshops.

There will be an expectation to support other Sustainable Coastlines programmes (such as Litter intelligence programme) when and where necessary, with regular travel between Wellington and Porirua and some travel to other parts of Aotearoa when needed. The position will require you to attend events at weekends a number of times during the year.

Personal Attributes

  • Creativity and strong problem-solving skills with the ability to think on your feet.
  • A growth mindset and a commitment to learning.
  • Level headedness and a good sense of organisation.
  • A commitment to the mission, vision and values of Sustainable Coastlines and a strong connection to the ocean.
  • An enthusiastic interpersonal style that fosters great relationships with colleagues and external partners.
  • Confidence in presenting and talking with large groups and building relationships with a range of stakeholders, including community groups and mana whenua.
  • Ability and desire to travel domestically and be on the road on a regular basis.
  • Initiative to manage workload remotely
  • A commitment to communicating clearly and collaboratively on shared projects and events with close colleague

Skills & Experience

  • Some industry experience and knowledge, with a view to specialising in community-led restoration projects would be preferable.
  • Some understanding of te ao māori and te reo māori.
  • Ability to work within a budget and to do event planning; a proven history of successfully delivering and reporting on community projects within budget constraints.
  • Demonstrated experience in using digital tools for planning, reporting and communicating.
  • Proven success in the planning, and/or delivery of educational activities and programmes.
  • Excellent ability to manage priorities and communicate effectively.

Values Alignment

Our core values at SC are:

Respect indigenous knowledge – We’re committed to being a better collaborator by increasing our understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, tikanga, te reo, and te ao māori.

Create the high five effect – We motivate people through passion, fun, positivity and a sense of achievement.

Together is better – We’re caring, collaborative, diverse and inclusive.

Strive for brilliance – We’re curious, tech-enabled people, open to new approaches.

Make waves – We focus on high impact solutions and measurable outcomes.

Come join our awesome whānau to support communities to restore waterways and prevent litter. We need a passionate person who loves our coastlines and cares about the communities around them. Being familiar with te ao and te reo would definitely be a plus. If you want to work in an exciting, inclusive, fast-paced non-profit, with a range of additional benefits then we’d love to hear from you.

How to Apply

Email your CV and cover letter to Rachel: [email protected] by 20 April 2022

Job Category: Environment / Conservation. Job Type: Full-Time. Job Salary: $55,000 – $59,999 • Full time  Closes: 20 April, 2022

What does a container return scheme mean for litter in the environment?

On 13 March, the government announced its proposal to overhaul current recycling and waste management. It proposes to standardise recycling across Aotearoa, food waste collections for business, and a container return scheme.

Sustainable Coastlines CEO, Josh Borthwick, thinks that the container return scheme is a positive move, but that more can be done to reduce litter in our environment.

“The container deposit scheme has been a long time coming! It’s a huge win in incentivising people to keep plastic, aluminium and glass out of our landfills, and ultimately our moana. It gets us another step closer to a circular economy, where products are produced and reproduced with a view to managing their entire lifecycle, rather than the waste-based economy we find ourselves in today. 

So this is a step in the right direction, but at Sustainable Coastlines we still see recycling as a last resort — we envision a future where single-use is a thing of the past.”

What kind of impact might the government’s proposed container deposit scheme have on the litter that we find on our clean-ups? We crunched some numbers on the Litter Intelligence insights page, and found that 7.68% of litter items our volunteers find on beach surveys relate to the items proposed in the deposit scheme. That percentage comprises more than 20,000 pieces of single-use rubbish related to drinks.

Will a container deposit scheme make this number smaller?

If people are incentivised to put this litter in the right place, we’re hopeful that much less of it will end up in the environment. However, much more needs to be done to move away from single-use items as much as possible, especially plastics. Aotearoa has great opportunities to adopt reuse schemes on a large scale.

Consultations on the container return scheme and the other proposed waste measures are open until 8 May. You can let the Ministry for the Environment know your thoughts at this link.

The stats

Beverage-related items found on Litter Intelligence beach surveys. Learn more at

Note: this article was updated on 11 May 2022 to include ‘Glass bottles and jars’ in the statistics. New statistics are correct as of that date.

Plastic bottle caps & lids — 4.05 %
Glass bottles & jars — 1.05 %
Plastic bottles <= 2 L — 0.67 %
Plastic bottle neck rings — 0.56 %
Plastic bottle seals & tabs — 0.51 %
Aluminium drink cans — 0.46 %
Metal Bottle caps, lids & pull tabs — 0.38 %
= 7.68%

Celebrate Kiwi kids taking action to protect our moana this Seaweek

[Press release] Kiwi charity Sustainable Coastlines is raising funds to educate children on ocean restoration.


Seaweek is Aotearoa’s annual national week devoted to the ocean, and this year, it’s encouraging Kiwis to ‘connect to the sea’. Heeding the call is environmental charity Sustainable Coastlines, which is raising funds for its school education programme, to continue inspiring tamariki to restore the mauri of our moana. Launching its Double Your Donation campaign, Sustainable Coastlines is encouraging donations during Seaweek, as any donations made between 5 and 13 March will be doubled by supporting businesses. 

Sustainable Coastlines’ Litter Intelligence Programme Manager Shawn Elise Tierney urges ocean lovers to take up the appeal, as the positive impact on our tamariki and our moana will be doubled.

“We hold a great responsibility to educate future generations and inspire them to look after Papatūānuku”, says Shawn Elise, “which is why we developed our Litter Intelligence Education Programme (LIEP) to inspire tamariki to look after their local coastline and inform better decisions for a world without litter.”

One of the most rewarding parts of our education programme, according to Shawn Elise, is hearing the success stories from the field, about Kiwi kids taking action, being innovative and implementing the skills the charity has taught them to make a positive difference. Waiheke’s Te Huruhi School, for example, switched problematic ‘compostable’ single-use cups for reusable ones, after discovering that the ‘eco’ cups used at their school were actually PLA (polylactic acid) lined.

“We need to do more than clean up rubbish on the beach: we need to educate future generations to be part of the solution that prevents rubbish from leaking into the environment in the first place”. LIEP is the education programme that does just that — giving teachers and students skills and capabilities in data collection, environmental monitoring, leadership, problem-solving, citizen science, community engagement, influencing techniques, presentation delivery, storytelling and more.

According to the latest World Ocean Assessment report, the ocean is our biggest ally in mitigating climate change, and understanding our impact on it is the first step to protecting it. Litter Intelligence was created to collect critical data on the impact of litter on our coastlines. “We cannot improve what we do not measure, which is why our Litter Intelligence education programme and associated data is so important. We know that data empowers action and we want to empower our rangatahi with data to take action for the places that are important to them”, says Shawn Elise.

Sustainable Coastlines intern, Nakita, gives a ‘Love Your Coast’ presentation to children from Hobsonville Primary in 2021.

“Thanks to the generous matching donors for our Double Your Donation campaign, we’re well on our way to meet our $20,000 goal, to help fund our educational work”. 

The companies involved are APL, Hirepool, Pit Stop, Hyundai NZ and WaterSmart. They are all New Zealand–owned businesses who understand the urgency in looking after our environment by educating future generations and are putting their money behind this epic cause. 

The funds raised through the Double Your Donation campaign will allow the charity to fund LIEP and continue inspiring groups like Te Iti Kahurangi Kāhui Ako, a community of 10 schools, with varying age groups, in Onehunga that has committed to looking after the local coastline that unites the students along the Manukau Harbour. Or Opoutere School, where LIEP inspired two students to hone in on their shared hobby, skateboarding. The students are now moulding skateboard deck rails out of recycled plastics, and even looking to market their product in the future. And Maraetai Beach School, whose entire environmental group wrote and produced a rap to highlight the pollution problem in Aotearoa. 

“These success stories are truly inspiring, and with your help we can continue motivating our tamariki to take action. So please, help us out this Seaweek — $5, $50, $500, whatever you want to donate helps us to fulfill our mission to connect people to nature and inspire change”, adds Shawn Elise. 

“You can double your donation by donating during Seaweek, and we can double our impact for our moana!”