Picking up rubbish as shaping the social side of a suburb

Beach Patrol 3207 was started, using the model of Beach Patrol 3206, in late 2010 by a Port Melbourne resident who had long wanted to do something to get people out there cleaning the beaches.

 The model is rather simple, and the group is very accessible to people who use the internet. You sign up online (using the very friendly looking website), select one of the four zones and read the ‘Health and Safety’ information. The idea is to pick up rubbish in your zone for at least an hour a month. In addition, group cleans are held on a weekend morning once every couple of months. These are organised and promoted via email and are rotated between the zones. The group cleans start around 9am with a short welcome and mention of safety considerations. These are friendly events and always get a good turn out regardless of the weather, but are unlikely to appeal to people who have more than a couple of drinks the night before. Group cleans finish with coffee. Going for a coffee provides a better opportunity to get to meet other members, share strategies and equipment tips, and work on plans for how Beach Patrol is going to change the world.

My zone is part of the beach without much overlooking from residential development

I signed up after attending the first group clean in 2010. As my project is on the social side of Port Melbourne, initially doing the solo cleaning seemed simply like the admission price to the group events and perhaps a small way to repay people in Port Melbourne for my uninvited enquiries. However, there is something rather social about even the solo cleaning.

 While out on the beach, the responses you hear seem to always be positive; I have never encountered anybody telling me off for picking up rubbish. People tell me that I am a ‘good girl’, call out ‘thank you’ as they jog past, say that I am doing a good job, or make some joke about the limitless amount of rubbish to be picked up. Especially when I wear my t-shirt as a top layer and I use the mechanical arm (given to me as a joke gift when my sister found out I go pick up rubbish), people ask if I am paid for picking up rubbish. I have also had people ask me about the history of the section of beach I am working on, suggesting that my actions mark me off as more than a passer by. The fact you hear any responses at all (even when I am rude/ self indulgent enough to have my earplugs in) is noteworthy.

People walking along the beach in Port Melbourne generally see picking up rubbish as the ethical thing to do. People tell me how they pick up rubbish (e.g. I always take a bag with me and/or I pick up at least ten pieces each time I come to the beach), which creates a nice sense of a shared practice. These responses could also be seen as evidence that the person speaking to you does not want to be labelled as somebody who does not pick up rubbish.

Aside from cleaning the beach being an interesting window into what people think about the place, and a rather relaxing thing to do (when it is not freezing cold), I keep getting out there because otherwise I feel guilty. I have signed up to look after a zone, I see others out there if I ride along the beach on my way between places, and I hear the accounts of solo cleans at each group clean. If I do not fit in enough time down in my zone I feel guilty because I have failed to keep the promise I made to the group.

Now there are three Beach Patrols along the City of Port Phillip’s beaches: 3206 – South Melbourne – with red t-shirts, 3207 – Port Melbourne – with blue t-shirts, and 3184 – Elwood – with green t-shirts. Beach Patrol members as individuals, couples, and families are out there helping present picking up litter as not being a fringe activity, but rather the norm.

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