Youth Against Marine Debris Challenge

A project by Mid-North Coast Sustainability Education Network

This project actively engaged 700 young people on the mid-north coast of NSW to adopt a litter hotpot close to their school and educate their community about the issue of marine debris.

The Youth Against Marine Debris Challenge was a new program developed by Chantelle Burns from the Department of Primary Industries- NSW Marine Parks. Program resources were developed, including an introduction to the Challenge, teacher training notes and a sign-up sheet, as well as the program mascot ‘Mr Crabby’. Litter clean up kits with Boomerang Bags made from repurposed materials and gloves were provided by MidWaste Regional Waste Forum.

“The highlight of the project was working collaboratively with my network peers, who are like-minded, determined people who are all there for the greater good!”
Chantelle Burns, Department of Primary Industries- NSW Marine Parks

Two training days were attended by 44 educators at Aldavilla Primary School in Kempsey and Kororo Public School in Coffs Harbour. Here the primary and high school teachers learnt about the issue of marine debris from the Department of Primary Industries- NSW Marine Parks and were introduced to the Youth Against Marine Debris Challenge. Teachers also enjoyed a workshop by Cascade Environmental Education Centre on how to introduce mindfulness in nature into their teaching. At the end of the day teachers were asked to sign up to the challenge and were assigned local mentors from the Mid-North Coast Sustainability Educators Network.

Five primary schools from four local government areas from across the region signed up to the challenge of adopting a litter hotspot and producing a video of their experience.

700 students participated in litter clean ups and rubbish analysis, with another 400 students from the school communities educated and engaged through viewing and discussing the videos and photos documenting the school’s challenges.

“The more involved I have become in this project the more aware I am of just how many things in our world are plastic! As a result, I have been trying to cut down as much as I can and so has my class. I have also overheard some of my students talking about their new awareness with others- which is fantastic!”
Danielle Morgan, Coffs Harbour Public School

Schools reported different results as to what types of litter were most problematic in their various hotspots, however plastic packaging and cigarette butts were common to all spots.

Teachers gave unanimous feedback that the project had a noticeable impact on both the children and adults involved, with one school reporting that as a result of the challenge they reduced the amount of litter on their school playground from 11 kg to 3 kg a day.

“Working together towards a common purpose was a great way to connect and be inspired by other educators in the region. We organised an end of year Green Drinks to help celebrate the collaborative energy that has been fostered by the project and it was a great way to share our positivity of what we had accomplished!”
Lisa Siegel, Cascade Environmental Education Centre


  • Mid-North Coast Sustainability Education Network
  • Department of Primary Industries- NSW Marine Parks;
  • Cascade Environmental Education Centre;
  • Impact Environmental;
  • MidWaste Regional Waste Forum;
  • Midcoast Council;
  • Australian Association for Environmental Education- NSW Chapter


The key achievement of this project was that it incorporated training, empowerment and then environmental action all in the same project, with great behavioural and physical results.


  • An outcome for school educators in our network was that they learned about an important environmental issue and how to empower their students to do something about it;
  • An outcome for our network was the project brought new members on board and we built our membership throughout the year-long project;
  • An outcome for the environment was that thousands of pieces of potential marine debris were collected, analysed, and disposed of properly – and both young people and adults learned that their decision making around consuming and disposing really makes a difference.


  • The ‘tyranny of distance’ of our large network area was overcome by holding two educator training days in the northern end and centre of our region;
  • The Youth Against Marine Debris Challenge was designed as a self-directed project for schools, rather than the usual excursion or activity model where an external environmental educator runs the activity for the teacher. We think this may have been a barrier for a few of the schools who dropped out, as they discovering they didn’t have the time required to carry out the project. Although we assigned a local mentor from our network to each school who signed up to the challenge, this support was not enough to overcome this barrier;
  • Getting the clean up photos and videos from the schools was challenging for two reasons: teachers have busy schedules and not all of the schools could give us legal permission to use their photos and videos outside of the school community;
  • The next time we do a project like this, we will start it at the beginning of the school year in order to give the schools the maximum amount of time to carry out the project at their convenience;
  • The project initially encouraged schools to use the EPA’s Local Litter Check Methodology to identify and monitor their litter hot spot, to give them a financial incentive to do a structured clean up. However, none of the schools did this and instead adapted the challenge to suit their requirements and the time and resources available to them. Ultimately, we think that this is a good thing, but it has made it difficult for reporting purposes!


$1,500 cash, $5,194 in-kind contributions.

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