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Safety fears as syringes wash into Yarra

The rubbish from the Yarra was removed from the banks along the stretch from Swan Street in Richmond to MacRobertson Bridge, which lies between Burnley and Toorak.

Yarra Riverkeeper Andrew Kelly said the needles and the vast amounts of rubbish flowing into the Yarra were a “visual affront”.

Some of the rubbish that washes into the Yarra River

Some of the rubbish that washes into the Yarra River Credit:Paul Jeffers, The Age

But he is also concerned they pose a safety risk for people who might venture close to the water’s edge, including volunteers cleaning up the river.

“It’s a big worry when somebody gets spiked,” he said.

Mr Kelly is now calling on the local council to provide better litter traps, in areas within Richmond frequented by injecting drug users, to prevent needles from reaching the river.

The Age contacted the Yarra City Council for comment.

Mr Kelly said the reed beds acted as natural litter traps and while it’s encouraging that the beds are expanding, the massive amounts of rubbish also pose a serious risk to birdlife.

Last year The Age revealed that an estimated 800 million bits of plastic were flowing into Port Phillip Bay each year from the Yarra and Maribyrnong rivers.

Much of that rubbish is microplastics – tiny particles smaller than a fingernail – that are plaguing Victoria’s waterways.

Since last April the Yarra Riverkeeper Association has gathered about 20 tonnes of rubbish during clean-up blitzes in the Yarra as well as some also collected from the Maribyrnong River.

During the first clean-up operation, 76 oBikes were collected, but Mr Kelly said disposable drink containers, balls, spray cans and a vast array of plastics were just some of the other items frequently washing into the Yarra.

The association will conduct another four blitzes as part of a program funded by the state government and a grant from Melbourne Water.

But it wants the clean-up program to be made permanent.

Mr Kelly said rubbish particles including pieces of polystyrene and plastic pellets were particularly dangerous to birds, making it harder for them to feed.

“Sometimes they’ll mistake small parts of plastic with food.”

Melbourne Water’s north west region manager, Sarah Eggleton, said sensors were being installed at Steele Creek, which is a tributary of the Maribyrnong River.

The sensors will be installed at 15 sites, mostly drains and concrete channels.

Melbourne Water will also install a camera at one litter trap, with plans to create a system that provides notifications when the trap is blocked or needs cleaning.

“We are keen to get the message out to the community that litter dropped on suburban streets ends up in our waterways and the bay from stormwater run-off,” Ms Eggleton said.

Benjamin is a state political reporter

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