Tracking litter in the Yarra River

The Yarra River is the largest contributor of litter into the Bay. Much of the litter entering the Bay is trapped in reed beds in the lower Yarra. These areas are extremely difficult to access. Furthermore, the small size of litter in these areas makes litter collection time consuming and expensive. This project aims to remove accumulated waste from reed beds in the lower Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers using a unique approach which incorporates a boat-mounted vacuum system with traditional waterway cleaning techniques. This project will greatly reduce the amount of litter and microplastics residing in the Yarra and Maribyrnong and will prevent millions of pieces of litter from escaping into the Bay annually.

In April 2018, in collaboration with Melbourne Water, Cleanwater Group and Melbourne Water, five tonnes of litter and polystyrene contaminated soil were vacuumed and removed from the Yarra reed bed system. The 5-day blitz culminated in a community event which drew over 200 attendees from across Melbourne who collected 450 kg of rubbish from the river. The Blitz attracted a lot of media attention including extensive coverage on the second season of ‘War on Waste’. Following the success of the pilot and due to a successful Bay Fund application, the Yarra Riverkeeper Association is running additional blitzes within the lower Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers over the next two years.

Based on our pilot study, for each blitz, we expect to collect 10 tonnes of waste to be collected over the 10-day period and a maximum of 60 tonnes across the duration of the project. Clean-ups like the Yarra River Blitz are essential to maintaining the ecological health of the river and preventing litter from spreading into the bay. The Blitz also prevents litter and plastics from being consumed by marine life and other animals like birds that live in the river and bay.