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Through our Litter and Flows and the Yarra River Blitz projects, we identified polystyrene, especially expanded polystyrene (EPS), as the most prevalent and pervasive litter item in the Yarra River. To date, we have removed approximately 38,000 kg of polystyrene contaminated soil and general waste from the Yarra’s riverbanks and reedbeds. Microplastic trawl sample analyses also indicated that over 828 million litter items flow into Port Phillip Bay annually from the Yarra’s surface waters, and over 612 million (74%) of these are microplastics, including polystyrene fragments.
Why is polystyrene a major threat to the river?
Being both a lightweight and brittle material, the ecological impacts of polystyrene are pervasive, widespread and unfold over a long period of time. Our Polystyrene Report presents the findings of a study we conducted to identify potential sources of polystyrene, particularly expanded polystyrene, pollution along the inner city and suburban reaches of the Yarra River.
Our findings were astonishing, with over 80% of field observations finding some level of polystyrene leakage, suggesting that the polystyrene leakage is widespread and prevalent within every industry that manufactures, distributes, handles and/or uses the material. We need to take stronger action across all industries that manufacture, transport, distribute and handle polystyrene. While a step in the right direction, voluntary product stewardship schemes have not gone far enough to contain this material from entering the environment and becoming the highest littered item on the Yarra River.
Increased monitoring and control measures implemented by the EPS industry needs to be met with improved legislation and stronger enforcement from both local and state governments in order to stop the flow of this material into the iconic Yarra River and eventually Port Phillip Bay.