Reducing litter on the streets of Fitzroy by 81%

Project information

  • Name: Keeping a retail strip litter free
  • Organisation: Yarra City Council
  • Location: Smith and Gertrude Streets, Fitzroy
  • Themes: Retail strip, schools

With Smith Street being called the new Brunswick Street and Gertrude Street labelled as Melbourne’s hottest strip, this hipster hub attracts shoppers, revellers and… litter!

“We want people to put litter in bins, rather than leaving it near bins, under seats, in parks, by trees, or where cars are parked,” explained Kirsty Richards, Waste Education Project Office at Yarra City Council.

Three different artwork images that appeared on bins on Smith and Gertrude Streets as part of the 'Put in bin' campaign

“Litter and cigarette butts do affect the look and feel of the area. That’s clearly not in the best interests of anyone running a business locally. But it also damages the environment as most of this rubbish blows into the Yarra.

“We want a new culture for Yarra where disposing of litter and recycling correctly becomes the social norm.

“With a $10,0000 grant from Sustainability Victoria, we were able to work with local businesses, residents and schools to open their eyes to the damage caused by litter and how easy it is to turn this behaviour around.”

Getting businesses on board

“We brought local businesses together as a group to talk about their responsibilities and how to dispose of litter and recycling properly. Even small bits of litter can damage the environment as it accumulates exponentially.

“We gave them recycling stickers for their bins and designed new graphic wraps for public bins with the message ‘Keep Yarra clean. Litter in the drain flows straight to the sea.’

“Businesses responded well to the group approach and liked having council support – it motivated them to keep going and to expand their own efforts. Staff told us they liked having the knowledge and power to recycle correctly.”

Some businesses have since taken on cleaning up and collecting litter as a yearly employee bonding event. 

Getting kids fired up

“We also worked with several schools in the area,” said Kirsty. “School students are passionate about the environment and love having the power to contribute. Once you have them on side, students are powerful promoters and doers of the right thing.

“After speaking to students about recycling and how litter damages life in our waterways, we ran different activities at each school like making artworks, murals or insect hotels from litter and recycling.

Statement about sustainability on a wall at Carlton North Primary School

Recycling items turned into art on a wall by students at Carton North Primary School

“We were lucky enough to have the Marine Mammal Foundation present at Carlton North Primary. The whole school then made two murals about sea life, using recycling and litter. These murals are displayed in the school hall and foyer. One of the students was so inspired that she wants to become a marine researcher!”

Educating residents

“To get local residents on board, we checked their bins and left information on putting the right items in their bins and using our hard rubbish collection service.

“If the bins looked good on the first or second check, residents entered a prize draw to win a compost bin, worm farm or tickets to the cinema.”


“At the end of the project, the streets were visibly cleaner; both the retail area and the residential streets where we checked the bins,” said Kirsty.

“Our before-and-after waste audits were a key part of the project as they gave us concrete data to measure our success – an 81% drop in street litter and 70% less litter at schools.

“Cigarette butts are still a problem, but we did find that cleaning up butts from around seating in parks, and pits around trees did discourage more butts from being dropped. If we can find the resources to keep clearing away butts from these common areas, we should see less of them being thrown on the ground.”

Next steps

“We will keep engaging local businesses so that new staff are on board and to motivate them to continue.

“We are using social media and the council website to promote good litter behaviour, including stories of local champions like Christa; a student with an Instagram account named @174metres. Christa collects rubbish she finds over the 174 metres between her house and the tram stop, takes a photo of what she collects and shares it to Instagram. She has about 125 followers, who share her care for the environment and now pick up litter.&rdquo

“We are really pleased with the success of this project and we hope to nurture and grow this new litter culture to keep our streets and waterways free from litter.”

More information

Contact Yarra City Council for more information.