Volunteers in gum boots and gloves -connecting communities

We are a country that worships the sun and praises its pristine coastline and beaches, but who does the heavy lifting to keep coastal communities clean?

On Sydney’s Northern Beaches, that extra effort comes from a roaming band of volunteers clad in gum boots and gloves, filling bags and buckets with plastic straws, cigarette butts, old toys, foam, plastic wrappers, bags and bottles and other detritus.

The Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew was established in 2015 by school teacher and environmental educator Malin Frick. Rather than curse the mess she saw collecting on her local beaches, Malin chose to act so she picked the rubbish up.

A few friends joined in, and other beach loafers (many of them children and teenagers) asked to pitch in too. The concept grew and so Malin took it to Facebook where the volunteer group has collected a following of almost 7,000 peninsula locals.

The call goes out at the end of each month to meet at a water side location, where volunteers are given bags, buckets and some spare gloves and gum boots – loaded off the back of a ute owned by fellow crew member Kobie Joyce.

Together they collect the rubbish. It’s sorted into different categories, logged and disposed of. It’s recycled where it can, and where it can’t its put in the bin.

Information is power, so Malin records every bit of rubbish collected and logs this with the Australian Marine Debris Initiative database, to help scientists and other educators better understand the alarming and growing rise of marine waste – much of it plastic.

“Our main goal is education on the impact of single use plastic,” Malin said.

“We now get about 80 to 100 volunteers at each cleanup and before we start we speak about how we can all change our habits. So it’s education and action.

“We generally collect about 7,000 individual items each cleanup – but our record was 21,000 bits of rubbish at Curl Curl Lagoon.

“It has become a real community event for people. You can see that people arrive as individuals, but they soon feel part of a community. A group that wants to contribute and make a difference.

“They become friends. It makes them feel happier and part of something bigger.”

Malin and Kobie are joined by a core group of five or six other volunteers, who give their time to help organise the monthly cleanups and community awareness and advocacy campaigns.

The most recent ABS data to measure the social contribution of Australian households showed that formal rates of volunteering are waning.  One school of thought, supported in the latest NSW Volunteering Strategy, is that formal organised volunteering is being replaced by informal or episodic types of volunteering – similar to the opportunities offered by the Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew via its Facebook network.

However, making it happen is Malin and Kobie and their core team of volunteers that bring it all together.

You can nominate your special volunteer, volunteer team or organiser for the 2019 NSW Volunteer of the Year Award – the largest event to celebrate and recognise volunteering across the country.

Nominate now at www.volunteering.com.au/awards