Cleaning the Goulburn River and reducing illegal dumping around Shepparton

Case study

Project information

  • Name: Illegal Dumping in Green Spaces
  • Lead: RiverConnect – an illegal dumping working group run by Greater Shepparton City Council
  • Themes: Illegal dumping; river litter; community groups; community action; surveillance; CCTV; signage

Land managers were delighted to see the community join forces with Greater Shepparton City Council to clean up 1,500kg of rubbish from the banks of the Goulburn River at two clean-up events.

Shepparton Canoe Club collect rubbish from the banks of Goulburn River at a clean-up event organised by the local council

Pictured: Shepparton Canoe Club collect rubbish from the banks of Goulburn River at a clean-up event organised by the local council.

“We usually tackle rubbish and illegal dumping from an enforcement angle,” explained Meg Pethybridge, RiverConnect Project Officer at Greater Shepparton City Council. “But after attending a behaviour change workshop at Sustainability Victoria, we switched to a community-driven stewardship angle, bringing the community on board at the start of the project instead of approaching them later on.”

This simple switch changed everything.

“Including all land managers, recreational river users and community groups in the initial planning process was so beneficial. We’ve never had much success getting locals involved in clean-up events previously and land managers were surprised to see the level of community involvement in this project.”

Monitoring illegal dumping

Community action was just one part of this project co-funded by Sustainability Victoria.

“We had an ambitious target – to decrease dumping in the Shepparton region green open spaces by 75%,” explained Meg.

“We installed cameras and signage at dumping hotspots. The council is responsible for four cameras and we gave three to Parks Victoria to monitor and prosecute dumpers in the Shepparton Regional Park.”

“Unfortunately, this aspect of the project was affected by resourcing issues, including being without a waste education officer to run the project for three months. Without someone to drive the project and collect consistent data, it’s hard for us to show the impact on illegal dumping.

“Parks Victoria identified their dumping hotspots and rangers are regularly talking to several long-term campers about cleaning up their camps. But we struggled to get consistent data from them, as rangers used different methods to collect data. For this kind of project, land managers need an easy, consistent reporting tool that they can continuously update.

“In terms of actual results, we know the stretch of Goulburn River cleaned at our events has stayed fairly clean, with only 10% of the volume removed reappearing.”

Some of the rubbish collected from Goulburn River

Pictured: Some of the ‘treasure’ collected from Goulburn River

“In a strange twist, the council received way more reports of illegal dumping than the previous year. Hopefully this reflects our media campaign encouraging residents to report rubbish dump sites rather than any increase in dumping at our targeted hotspots. Our council-monitored cameras haven’t shown any illegal dumping, but we have no specific data from the sites while the waste education officer position has been vacant."

Targeting our audience

“We had great success working with recreational river users to champion our campaign efforts to the community and the media. Their involvement caught the attention of media outlets that we had not previously interacted with – One FM and ABC Goulburn Murray – as well as increasing our profile with a Shepparton News website gallery and online articles on Triple M and Hit 96.9 station websites.

“But targeting illegal dumpers directly is challenging because we don’t know who they are – no one will admit to doing the wrong thing! Conversations around tipping fees and limitations to free waste disposal became a huge part of our communication with the community.

“It was also challenging to work on communications with multiple land management agencies with conflicting policies and ideas. Parks Victoria do not allow any enforcement-related signage in the Shepparton Regional Park if it does not meet their design guidelines. We found that face-to-face discussions with rangers have been the most appropriate way to get campers to clean up their sites.”

Next steps

“We may not have met our 75% target, but we intend to keep working towards it. We will continue to trial surveillance signage and cameras in several dumping hotspots. We are working with a creative agency to develop and deliver more advertising materials focused on behaviour change. Our new waste education officer will allow us to monitor sites more closely.

“We are developing new materials for local schools, so students grow up with more awareness of the issues related to dumping. We are also talking to Veolia, our waste contractor, as they have experience delivering waste education in schools.

“We believe that the community should be involved on a wider level with each stage of this project and will explore other opportunities to host events that help them understand and care for the river environment.”

More information

Contact Meg Pethybridge, RiverConnect Project Officer at Greater Shepparton City Council on 03 5832 9714 or email