Smarter Cleaner Sydney Harbour

Sydney Coastal Councils Group (SCCG) and Parramatta River Catchment Group (PRCG) are partnering with CSIRO and the Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA) on an innovative project that applies smart technology to help reduce stormwater pollution entering Sydney Harbour. Five councils are involved in this trial: Northern Beaches, Woollahra, Blacktown, City of Parramatta and Canterbury-Bankstown.

Channel 7 recently featured the Smarter Cleaner Sydney Harbour. Watch it here!

Issues with stormwater pollution and its management

Stormwater pollution is a significant problem for coastal waterways and the wider marine estate.  Pollutants such as litter and sediment are washed off urban areas during rainfall and conveyed via the stormwater drainage network to receiving waterways.  This pollution is not only unsightly but a threat to marine life and public health.

Trapped litter in Duck Creek, Granville (Source: SCCG)

A community survey conducted as part of the development of the NSW Marine Estate Management Strategy identified stormwater as the greatest threat to the marine estate.  Similarly, stormwater pollution was identified as the highest priority threat to Sydney Harbour as part of the scoping of the Greater Sydney Harbour Coastal Management Program.

This problem has long been acknowledged.  In response, local councils and other stormwater managers have for many decades installed gross pollutant traps (GPTs) on the stormwater network to trap pollutants before they reach the waterways.  There are several thousand GPTs now in operation across Sydney and more continue to be installed.

Trash rack style GPT (Source: Stormwater NSW (2020), Guidelines for the maintenance of stormwater treatment measures)

Stormwater treatment technology has evolved considerably in this time.  GPT maintenance practices, however, continue to rely on physical inspections and fixed schedules that determine when GPTs are cleaned, irrespective of how full the GPT actually is.  That is, cleaning may occur before the unit is full, leading to higher maintenance costs, or may occur after the unit is full, meaning pollution may have bypassed the GPT.

Cleaning of a below-ground GPT (Source: Stormwater NSW (2020), Guidelines for the maintenance of stormwater treatment measures)

Improving GPT maintenance practice through smart technology

There is now an opportunity to employ the use of smart technology such as smart sensors, internet of things, digital twins and artificial intelligence (AI), to improve GPT maintenance practices.

Specifically, CSIRO has developed smart, low-cost AI-connected sensors that can be installed inside GPTs to determine when GPTs are approaching capacity and require cleaning.  This will help optimize GPT maintenance regimes, reduce the risk of pollution bypassing the GPT and reduce work, health and safety risks associated with physical inspection.

Sensor attached to stormwater pit insert in the Clarence Plains Rivulet, Hobart (Source: CSIRO Marine Debris Team)

Camera attached to bridge in the Northern Beaches Council

In addition, AI-connected cameras can be installed over stormwater channels to monitor and estimate the amount of floating litter conveyed to receiving waterways.  This will assist in catchment-based stormwater planning by, for example, quantifying pollutant loads, identifying pollutant hotspots within the catchment and evaluating the effectiveness of existing GPTs.

A partnership approach

After a successful initial trial of smart technology in Hobart, CSIRO is partnering with SCCG and PRCG to conduct a larger trial of this technology in Sydney.  This involves the installation of up to about 80 sensors and cameras on GPTs and waterways across Sydney Olympic Park and seven local government areas within the Greater Sydney Harbour catchment, as well as the development of a web-based analysis, decision support and reporting tool.

The project is supported through the NSW Smart Places Acceleration Program with a $545,000 grant provided by the NSW Digital Restart Fund.  SOPA is acting as the NSW state agency co-partner on this project given Sydney Olympic Park has one of the highest concentrations of GPTs in Sydney and the use of smart technology to improve asset management and reduce environmental impact aligns well with SOPA’s strategic direction.

Rain in Sydney Olympic Park (Source: Flickr user Alexey licensed under CC by 2.0)

Project Update

The project commenced in December 2022 and is expected to be completed in early 2024.  The outcomes of the project will be considered in the preparation of the Greater Sydney Harbour Coastal Management Program as well as the implementation of the Greater Sydney Harbour Regional Litter Prevention Strategy.  If the trial is successful, opportunities will be explored for expanding the application of smart technologies to other councils within the Greater Sydney Harbour catchment, and beyond.

Greater Sydney Harbour Litter Prevention Project

Sculpture showing the impact of marine litter on the environment were on display in iconic locations across the Sydney region as part of the Don’t be a Tosser! campaign (Source: NSW EPA).

Overview of the Regional Litter Prevention Strategy

The Sydney Coastal Councils Group and Parramatta River Catchment Group are proud to announce the launch of the Greater Sydney Harbour Regional Litter Prevention Strategy – For a Litter Free Greater Sydney.

Development of the strategy was supported with grant funding through the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s Community Litter Grants Program in 2021-22 and is the product of broad council and community engagement.

The focus of the strategy is to reduce the amount of litter entering Sydney Harbour, its catchments and waterways and ultimately the marine environment. A community perceptions survey conducted during 2021 found that 82% of respondents believed that litter is a problem in waterways. Litter can end up in the marine environment, even if it starts its journey way up in the catchment and is not captured on its way downstream.

Reducing the amount of litter entering our waterways requires a regional approach across councils and community and a variety of litter prevention actions covering education, rewards, infrastructure, enforcement and measurement. The NSW Government has set targets of 60% litter reduction by 2030 and 30% reduction in plastic litter by 2025 in NSW. The Regional Litter Prevention Strategy for Greater Sydney Harbour will contribute to these targets.

If you want to know more, you can read the strategy here.

Strategy implementation and targeted on-ground projects

Further funding has been granted under the EPA’s Community Litter Grants Program to implement the initial phases of the strategy in 2022-2023. This funding has allowed the appointment of a Regional Litter Prevention Coordinator who will work closely with all stakeholders to implement the strategy. Collaboration across councils, community, business, industry and State Government will be key to achieving the regional approach to litter prevention.

Many litter prevention projects are underway across Greater Sydney, with community groups doing regular clean-ups and councils and community organisations conducting education and awareness campaigns. Well located signage and bins are crucial to providing opportunities for the correct disposal of rubbish before it becomes litter. The strategy will support these many on-ground projects, celebrate achievements in litter prevention and provide examples of what can be done to reduce litter.

Some of the pilot case studies this year include:

  • Installing Don’t be a Tosser signage at selected litter hotspots to complement local council’s education. Planning is currently underway in partnership with Inner West, Cumberland and Hornsby Councils.
  • Delivering school education program focused on litter prevention in partnership with Take 3 for the Sea and Keep Australia Beautiful.

Community Litter Forum

The first online Community Litter Forum was held on 28 September 2022 which garnered wide community interests in litter prevention. Participants had a highly engaged discussion as they learned about what’s currently being done to tackle litter, including the Greater Sydney Harbour Litter Prevention Project, the Groundswell Project by Take 3 for the Sea, the diversity of community and business engagement initiatives carried out by Northern Beaches Council, as well as the amazing work of local eco-champions by the Friends of Toongabbie Creek. From bringing together tourism businesses, to creating a dialogue between passionate community groups and making waste artworks, the wide range of projects reminded everyone that we all play a critical role in litter prevention, no matter how small or big our actions may be. The forum inspired participants to start taking actions today, whether it is to advocate to others about litter prevention, to join a local litter prevention project, or to simply refuse single-use plastics. These are all crucial steps that will progressively enable us to achieve our vision for “A Litter-Free Greater Sydney”.

A very successful Litter Prevention Catchment Bus Tour was held on 23 February 2023. The bus tour took participants on an interactive journey to visualise the catchment wide impacts of litter and empowered them to take part in source reduction initiatives by showcasing a diversity of pilot examples of what can be done to prevent litter across the Greater Sydney Harbour catchment. Participants networked with like-minded individuals who joined from a diversity of GSH councils, organisations and community groups, as they learned about the collaborative regional approach to litter prevention. Participants visited 6 sites across the catchment and received 8 presentations representing a breadth of litter prevention initiatives.

Map of sites and photos from the Litter Prevention Catchment Bus Tour.


Litter prevention web portal

A key implementation outcome will be the development of a centralised litter prevention web portal, which will provide a catchment-wide, shared knowledge base for ongoing litter prevention. It will celebrate achievements in litter prevention, provide examples of what can be done to reduce litter and important links to litter prevention resources.

Watch this space as the web portal develops!

Preventing Cigarette Butt Littering: A Resource Package for Local Government


The SCCG has prepared a resource package to assist Councils and other interested stakeholders to encourage the correct disposal of cigarette butts.

Aim and Objectives

The Preventing Cigarette Butt Litter in the Sydney Coastal Region project purpose was to provide Member Councils, other authorities and the community with a range of best practice tools and information that they can implement to address cigarette butt littering in their local area.

Outcomes / Outputs

The principle outcome of the project is an innovative resource package that provides Councils and in turn the community with information on the extent and problems of cigarette butt littering, legislation, enforcement ideas, bins and devices available and a range of example education initiatives. Secondary outcomes have been greater community awareness of the effects of cigarette butt littering and a reduction in cigarette butt litter.

Contents of the Resource Package:

  • Introduction (Concept and how to use the package)
  • Facts and Figures (Extent of littering and effect of the pollution).Bins and Devices (Example bins and devices to assist correct disposal).
  • Legislation (Relevant to littering and smoking area restrictions).
  • Enforcement (Licensing, PINs, MOUs, property leases, standard conditions for development).
  • Education (Education projects, activities, media releases, posters, stickers).
  • Relevant Contacts and Internet Site Details.

For a hard copy of the Resource Package or for more information please contact SCCG.

Plastic in the Marine Environment



Plastic is finding its way into the environment, particular waterways, coasts and beaches. A great deal is manufactured from non-biodegradable materials which have many environmental and related implications.

In response to concerns raised by the Full Group about the prevalence of plastic on beaches and in waterways (particularly plastic parking tickets and infringement notices), a technical report was produced by the Secretariat to develop an understanding of its risks and implications. The report details, in general terms, the nature and impacts of plastic in the marine environment and the policies and procedures implemented by Member Councils. A copy is available by clicking here.

Member Councils recognise that the issue of parking and infringement tickets in the environment presents an opportunity to reduce cost, decrease consumption and waste, and improve efficiency and sustainability outcomes. Councils have the ability to reduce the environmental impact of parking systems and reductions align with public sector responsibilities and sustainability objectives. In this regard, the Secretariat has also prepared a Good Practice Guideline addressing sustainability in parking management. It aims to translate sustainability objectives into an action plan, tiered according to each Council’s particular policies and strategies. The Guideline is intended to be a living document and updated and reviewed as required.