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Aug 01, 2023

Thousands of items of rubbish, much of it old plastic, have washed up on one of Perth's most popular beaches, and it's from all around the city.

Among the many items found on Fremantle's Bathers Beach was what is believed to be a plastic Coke bottle bottom of 1980s or 1990s vintage.

Doctor Linda Davies of Notre Dame University's School of Arts and Sciences said people from all over Perth had contributed to the piles.

"This is litter that has been washed up on Bathers Beach that has been collected since February this year by the community members who are concerned about our litter pollution that we have," she said.

"With most of the litter on the table being from June and July when the storms first hit.

"The storms are always going to wash in more litter, and wash in litter that has come from afar.

"Some of this stuff may have originated from near Fremantle but a lot of it would've travelled fair distances."

The haul includes tomato sauce containers with use-by dates from 10 years ago, plastic and bamboo cutlery, pieces of underwear, small bags of unidentified drugs and McDonald's straws.

The McDonald's straws weren't recent deposits because the fast food giant has stopped making them, and plastic cutlery is harder and harder to find on dry land.

Dr Davies said that while some of the rubbish was from local businesses, much of it found its way directly into the ocean from the Swan River, often through stormwater drains.

"It shows the real importance of putting filters on our stormwater drains to stop this litter from coming through.

"If you look at some of the litter that's on the streets it will be very similar to what you see here so things like lollipop sticks you see sort of laying around quite frequently, I don't see people having a lollipop on the beach but I'll find lots of lollipop sticks washing up."

Dr Davies has been conducting monitoring of litter levels at Bathers Bay, aiming to determine whether bans on single-use plastics are making a difference.

Those who are part of the project have been provided with keys so they can put the rubbish into a special seahorse bin on Bathers Beach.

The seahorse bin has a perspex tummy, showing what happens when marine animals eat the litter.

While some of the collected refuse appeared to have come from fishers or fishing vessels, it was a relatively small portion.

A few bottles with lids on them seemed to have come from foreign vessels, if not foreign shores, given the labelling and unfamiliar types of plastic.

Beverage containers made up more than 20 per cent of all of the items found, representing the single largest percentage.

Eligible items have gone to the Containers for Change program to raise money for the local arts precinct, and rope pieces had gone to a specific art project.

Dr Davies said the discovery of a black plastic bottom from a Coke bottle was noteworthy.

"These were popular in the '80s and '90s.

A unique floating rubbish bin, which effectively acts as a vacuum cleaner for the ocean, is being put to good use in WA waters.

"People used to use them as little terrariums.

"But they got phased out in the 1990s.

"This one has obviously been in the ocean for a fair while you can see the fouling in there and it has been weathered but it is still recognisable."

Cigarettes and their packaging made up 17 per cent of the litter collected, while food packaging contributed 19 per cent.

Dr Davies said sharp-eyed collectors had also found nurdles.

"Unfortunately with the Swan River discharging right near Bathers Beach we have a lot of these nurdles, so these are precursor plastic fragments that come from industry before they're actually turned into our plastic items which include single use plastics.

"These nurdles look like little eggs to some of our marine fauna and therefore it's eaten, non-digestible which can clog up animals' digestive systems."

The success of the project so far is largely down to volunteers like Rebecca James.

"I'm a big believer, as individuals all of us can play a small part," she said.

"The exciting part of being part of this project is knowing that it's all going to be analysed, and the science around that.

From nets that catch litter coming out of storm drains to roads made of recycled rubbish, some small West Australian councils are attracting global attention for their environmental ideas.

"To help find out what policies are making a difference, where some of this plastic's coming from and then being able to work out more what we can all do about it."

Neil Kidd is a regular visitor to the beach, using rubbish discoveries in his own art works, while also putting some in the seahorse bin.

"I keep getting told by people that see me daily that it's looking really great," he said.

"But you really don't know what the storms are going to bring up next week and you might see the whole beach covered in rubbish again."

Mr Kidd said he'd like to see every beach have a seahorse bin.

Watch War On Waste on iview or on Tuesdays at 8:30pm on ABC TV.

Watch War On Waste on iview or on Tuesdays at 8:30pm on ABC TV.