Bike chains inspire Yarra litter hope

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Travels in South America inspired a Melbourne-based industrial designer to help combat pollution along the Yarra. Brittany Lanyon reports.

A Melbourne industrial designer inspired by bicycle chains hopes to improve the capacity of litter traps to prevent pollution along the Yarra.

Rowan Turnham says his project consists of pods that link together, provide a buoyant eco-system for native aquatic plants that capture harmful pollutants and chemicals that enter the river.

Parks Victoria now has 17 litter traps strategically placed on the Yarra to catch litter that enters the waterways via stormwater drainage systems.

A Parks Victoria spokesperson said these traps collected approximately 1300 cubic meters of litter last year. This increasing number has led to an additional seven new litter traps along the river this year.

From an early age, Mr Turnham rowed on the Yarra, gaining a fascination for exploring and observing the flora and fauna that live in and on the river.

“After a trip to South America, I was exposed to a whole different world where the management of rubbish was not so precise compared to here in Australia,” Mr Turnham said of the of pollution in the waterways, beaches, and rivers.

“Our awareness of this pollution in Australia and the mechanisms and systems being put in place are constantly improving.”

After studying furniture and industrial design at RMIT and Monash University, Mr Turnham spent a year designing a barrier to help with litter strategy initiated with the first floating litter traps in 1993 which features two boom arms providing buoyancy, guiding litter towards the gate’s opening.

The success of the first litter traps led to inquiries from numerous national and international authorities on the product.

A standard litter trap measures 15 meters long, 3 meters wide and 0.6 meters high.

A key objective of this project is to collect and capture litter that accumulates on the water’s surface, preventing litter from affecting all living ecosystems, plants, wildlife and people.

With its bio-filtration capabilities and incorporation of aquatic plants, Mr Turnham says this design will help soak up excess nutrients, reduce risks of algal blooms and reduce overall water temperatures.

But it might not make it to the Yarra for awhile while he sorts out likely problems related to factors including capacity and the consequence of the aquatic plants weighing down the barrier and requiring maintenance.

Mr Turnham said, “these potential problems would be accounted for and tested if a working prototype were to be installed in the river.”

Local resident Matthew Braden, who regularly visits the Yarra for his son’s rowing, has praised the appearance of this design and the “success” it could bring if introduced to the river.

Mr Braden acknowledged the modern design of the project and the “great difference between the new and old design” of current litter traps.

“Project Galada serves a second purpose of purifying the water through the plant holders that have been integrated into the design,” he said.

Melbourne local Kate Millie, who regularly plays at Kew Golf Club on the Yarra, has noticed that after flooding there is minimal rubbish left on the course, compared to previous years.

Mrs Millie said, “The litter collection traps on the Yarra alongside nearby suburban areas has dramatically led to the decrease of rubbish accumulating in the Yarra.”

Furthermore, Leo Lanyon, who rowed on the Yarra 58 years ago between 1959 and 1961, said that during this period timber and pollution were clearly visible in the water.

“In many cases the Port Authority would be seen removing rubbish before the rowing race began, making sure it was safe for participants,” Mr Lanyon said.

The dumping of timbers and rubbish at the mouth of the Yarra is now strongly controlled by the Port Authority, allowing for a cleaner and healthier river.