Data from rubbish collection sites around the region could be used to prioritise action around litter control and prevention by councils and government.
Four groups of citizen scientists have been out learning how to collect detailed data about litter in specific beach areas in Hawke's Bay and then inputting their findings to a national database.
Sustainable Coastlines NZ, which developed the workshops to ensure scientific rigour in the project, has already set up 108 sites around the country.
The groups Hawke's Bay Greens, Taikura School, Plastic Free Hawke's Bay and the National Aquarium of NZ will now continue to survey their site four times a year for at least three years.
Hawke's Bay Greens convenor Jenny Elliott said the problem with litter on some beaches is already known.
"But we need specific local information about how much litter there is, where it is and what it is made up of. This project trains people to collect long-term data that is reliable and not based on assumptions or best guesses."
The Hawke's Bay sites are at Ahuriri estuary by Pandora pond, along the beach in front of the aquarium, in front of the Waitangi Regional Park and at Clive beach near Richmond Road. Data is collected from a 2000 square metre strip along the high tide mark at each of these sites.
The most densely littered site was at the Ahuriri estuary but the greatest volume of litter was from Waitangi Park where approximately 40 litres were gathered within the investigation strip, she said.
Clive Beach was the cleanest site.
Sustainable Coastlines NZ programme co-ordinator Ben Knight said cigarette butts were a major component of the litter at the aquarium site, probably reflecting its proximity to the hospitality sector of town.
The butts also provide an example of the action that could be taken as a result of the research.
"If the data continues to show significant numbers of cigarette butts in the area then it could justify installing stormwater traps and also approaching businesses to ensure enough ashtrays are provided. It shows how good evidence can provide targeted solutions."
Hawke's Bay Regional Council, although not part of the project, currently spends thousands of dollars a year collecting and disposing of this illegally dumped rubbish.
General litter is looked after by the district and city councils.
A spokeswoman said rubbish being dumped by rivers and at the beach is an ongoing issue for them and their staff are regularly responding to reports to the Pollution Hotline (0800 108 838) of dumped rubbish.
"We respond when there is rubbish dumped on riverbanks or at the beach such as cars, mattresses etc and we do organise community beach clean ups during the year.
"We are working alongside Sustainable Coastlines NZ for a number of planting days at Waitangi Regional Park this month during Matariki – we are supplying the plants and they are organising and running the planting days."