Modified leaf blower invention used to clean styrofoam from Queensland beaches after flooding

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A few pieces of pipe, a leaf blower and a bag of firewood.

These are the simple objects that two men use to clean up their local beach after it is flooded with polystyrene.

Aaron Posadowski and Chibi Spanton love to tinker and invent things.

So when they saw the state of their beloved Rainbow Beach after flooding washed away masses of scum on the Queensland coast, they knew they had to help.

Mr. Posadowski said he and Mr. Spanton spent a few days developing the concept.

“So I challenged us to find something to clean up all the little particles.”

A few days later, the concept of a modified leaf blower was born – dubbed the Built by Blokes Beach Blower and Vac.

Aaron Posadowski modified a leaf blower to help clean up polystyrene on Rainbow Beach.(Provided: Aaron Posadowski)

Mr Spanton said the machine was a simple but effective design and could either suck up the polystyrene or blow it into a pile large enough to pick up.

“We just adapted it with a hose, a bag and a collection point, with just a few things we had around the house and found it worked pretty well,” he said.

“If you just keep your distance from him, just enough to pull the foam up, and he’ll suck it up and leave most of the sand.”

He said the bag of firewood was attached to the back of the fan and collected the styrofoam sucked into the machine.

“The machine just shreds the foam into small pieces that fit well in the bag,” he said.

The tip of the iceberg

The men recently spent a day at Rainbow Beach where they collected one and a half cubic meters of foam using the device.

small white particles in the sand
Tiny pieces of polystyrene have washed up on Queensland beaches.(Provided: Noosa Regional Council)

“We did a stretch of about two kilometers and it took seven or eight hours,” Posadowski said.

“There’s a bunch of good people out there getting out what they can, but picking up the little things is pretty hard.”

Much of the moss is thought to be remnants of pontoons that were washed away by rivers and marinas during last month’s flood.

Noosa County Council removed 18 structures from local beaches, with the help of Maritime Safety Queensland, but many white particles remained.

Acting environmental services manager Shaun Walsh said the council was in touch with the state government on how best to resolve the issue.

heavy machinery on a beach
Noosa Council has removed 18 pontoons from local beaches with the help of Maritime Safety Queensland.(Provided: Noosa Regional Council)

He said the council was about to embark on a trial of industrial vacuum cleaners to suck up polystyrene from beaches.

“We are almost industrializing this process,” he said.

“So that when it goes through the vacuum system, it goes through a sieve system [that] actually filters the sand from the polystyrene.”

The council wants residents to report foam hotspots on local beaches so they can target the worst-affected areas first.

Effects on marine life unknown

Marine experts say it could be months or even years before the true impact on marine life is known.

People rescue sick sea turtle from Moreton Bay beach in southeast Queensland
People rescue a sick sea turtle from the beach in Moreton Bay, southeast Queensland.(Provided: Redcliffe Environmental Forum)

SeaLife’s Kate Willson said she has yet to treat any animals that have ingested the polystyrene, but expects to follow suit.

“‘Especially with our sea turtles, we know that their seagrass beds have been badly affected.

“So that’s something we’re going to be really mindful of going forward, just keep an eye out for how those trickle down.”

Ms Willson said sea life could mistake polystyrene for food, causing major digestive problems.

“With our turtles, they can have what we call flutter syndrome, it just gets stuck so they can’t get past it.”

Ms Willson encouraged everyone to do their part by picking up any pieces of polystyrene they might see during visits to local beaches.

People bend down to pick up pieces of moss with buckets
Volunteers collect polystyrene in buckets on a beach in Noosa.(Provided: Noosa Regional Council)
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