21 March 2024

Trash talk: Lake Illawarra resident tackles local litter

| Dione David
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North Wollongong resident Sam Hodges stand next to a bag of rubbish he has collected

Sam Hodges is on a mission to document all the litter he picks up in his area this year and is on track to collect about 270 kg. Photo: Supplied.

An environmentally conscious Illawarra resident is making staggering progress on a new year’s resolution – but he can’t say he’s thrilled about it.

Fed up with the sheer amount of litter he encountered while walking his dog along the Blue Mile, Lake Illawarra resident Sam Hodges ducked out to Bunnings, picked up an $8 grabber, and incorporated rubbish pick-ups into his routine.

At the end of each walk, he easily fills a bag, sometimes two.

“Cigarette butts are a big offender, so are candy and fast-food wrappers, and rubbish from construction sites. I see 7-Eleven slushy cups everywhere,” he says.

“It doesn’t matter if I have filled a bag a day or two earlier, there’s always a new bagful at the next walk. I know it’s impossible for me to clean it up on my own, but I can’t just leave it to blow into the ocean.”

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As a new year’s resolution to raise awareness of the issue in his community, Sam has set a goal to keep track of how much rubbish he picks up in 2024.

Venturing out four or five times a week, so far he has racked up more than 40 bags since 1 January, each weighing about 1.5 kg. On that trajectory of around 60 kg of rubbish in about 80 days, Sam is on track to collect 270 kg of rubbish this year.

That figure inspires mixed emotions.

“It’s funny, because while it’s great that rubbish is no longer ocean-bound, at the same time it’s not a number I can really feel happy about,” he says.

But Sam does not believe the effort is futile. Even if 270 kg is a drop in the ocean, the hope is that with visibility will come awareness, and with awareness, change.

Plastic found on Austinmer Beach. Photo: Dione David.

Plastic breaks up but never breaks down, and tonnes of it end up in our oceans every year. Photo: Dione David.

To that end, he recently returned to his local Bunnings and bought all the grabbers in stock, along with gloves and rubbish bags, and started sharing the details of his clean-ups on social media.

Already posts on the Facebook Warilla CommUnity Notice Board have attracted likeminded people looking for a way to keep their own community clean. Just a few for now, but it’s heartening for a man on a mission.

“It’s a project in its infancy. I’ll keep posting the meeting spots and times and hope a few more people will jump on board,” he says.

“I know people appreciate the effort. We’ve had a few people stop and say so, and Lynsey Willis, who owns The Fern & Anchor cafe, generously provided free coffee vouchers for those who [helped].”

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Sam, who this year started a podcast called Tales from the Valley telling the stories of South Coast runners both elite and recreational, is percolating the idea of expanding his burgeoning media skills towards creating a short documentary about the impacts of litter in his area.

“If I can spread the word about how many kilos of trash I manage to pick up in a 2-km radius of where I live, perhaps people will start to understand how serious the problem is,” he says.

“I might get more people in for clean-ups, but also, it might get people thinking just a little more carefully about their waste disposal, and perhaps even their waste generation.”

Join the Warilla CommUnity Notice Board on Facebook to keep an eye on Sam’s progress and join in clean-up events.

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