REBECCA GARNETT is not your normal trash collector. In fact, she negotiates and buys advertising space for a North Sydney advertising company. This Sunday, however, Miss Garnett will be picking up garbage along Sydney's shoreline. Joining Garnett this weekend are thousands of other Australians who will pick up litter from the nation's waterways, parks, roadsides, and drainage ditches. They are part of an army of volunteers participating in "Clean Up Australia Day" in 438 cities and towns across the country.
"There is nothing else that gives people a warm glow about getting their hands dirty," says Karin O'Gready, project coordinator.
Last year, 300,000 volunteers participating in the first national cleanup collected more than 30 million pounds of litter across the nation. More than 50 percent of the garbage was plastic.
This year organizers expect an even larger crew. Rotary clubs, schools, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, 4-wheel-drive clubs, "tidy town associations" (local beautification groups), environmental groups, and even bank offices are organizing cleanup committees. About 500,000 Australians will clean up 4,393 sites across the country.
The cleanup includes many of the places that show up on postcards around Sydney harbor. But it will also take in less picturesque areas, such as a 19 mile stretch of railroad between Parkes and Forbes in New South Wales. Rubyvale, a mining community in central Queensland, has identified 100 junked car bodies for removal. Residents of Tennant Creek, Northern Territory, will pick up trash along the dry creek beds. And divers are planning to clean up Portsea Beach, Victoria, home to a dolphin colony.
The organizers hope these efforts will also change attitudes. "There is not really anything you can do about the hole in the ozone layer or the greenhouse effect, but there is something you can do by showing you love your land by cleaning it up and having your awareness lifted and getting some good habits like recycling," says Ian Kiernan, chairman of the campaign.
THE Australian effort is not unique. The Center for Marine Conservation in Washington, D.C., plays host to an annual North American Beach Clean Up campaign. However, the Australian effort is the largest and has attracted inquiries from 40 other countries and cities around the world.
One of the reasons it works, Mr. Kiernan says, is that it has no official involvement. "We just decided to do it," says Kiernan, who runs a construction company. He jokes that if a government tried to do the same thing, it would need a budget of A$8 million (US$6.16 million). The total budget of the group is A$300,000 cash. However, it receives free advertising and television space. Telecom, a sponsor, gives it a toll-free telephone line, IBM provides computer equipment, and Westpac Banking Corporation contributes staff and money.
After two years of cleanups, the Aussies know how to mobilize the benders and stoopers. Miss O'Gready has produced a 103-page manual, detailing how to set up local committees and enlist volunteers. The national committee distributes reusable cleanup bags and containers to store syringes and other sharp items. It will also put together a "Rubbish Report," based on the recorded findings of the volunteers. This report will be used as a research tool to help industry and government better understand litter.
Kiernan, the group's founder, first decided to take on Sydney harbor several years ago. He got some money from McDonalds Family Restaurants and started organizing. To his amazement, 40,000 Sydneysiders turned out. "They are like New Yorkers - a bit cynical - so it was remarkable," says Kiernan.
Miss Garnett, a first-time participant, says the past publicity about the event had stimulated a feeling of regret that she was not involved. "This year I felt it was time to actually do something," she says.