Oceans of waste

Why is there so much plastic waste in our oceans? Surely its not the litter from parties on our beaches?  Surely its not from illegal dumping at sea?  The answer is that much of that plastic is washed down the world’s rivers into the sea. About eight million tonnes enters the world’s oceans each year.  A CSIRO study (2015) of the Australian coastline found three-quarters of coastal rubbish is plastic.

Clive Jackson, Democrats campaigner on Waste and recycling

Serious amounts of the stuff are killing marine mammals and impacting marine fish and bird populations.  The CSIRO says flexible plastics such as bags and packaging are being eaten by fish, and lost fishing debris (nets) are killing larger sea creatures. Plastic can break up and microplastics are then distributed between the water surface and the sea floor. 

Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats to ocean health worldwide. With skyrocketing plastic production, low levels of recycling, and poor waste management, between 4 and 12 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year—enough to cover every foot of coastline on the planet! And that amount is projected to triple in the next 20 years. Let that sink in for a moment.

The Oceanic Society, July 2020

The federal government Recycling and Waste Bill 2020 was passed by the Senate on 8 December. In September 2019 the Prime Minister told the UN General Assembly: ‘Australia is committed to leading urgent action to combat pollution choking our oceans’. The Canberra times

It is commendable of the PM to draw attention to the problem of plastics in oceans but this Bill does nothing to address that.  It does finally ban the export of unprocessed waste, with a set timetable, and puts the responsibility where it belongs, on domestic recycling and waste management systems. 

However, a national approach to cleaner oceans is urgently required. State governments are working on land-based waste and recycling measures but to stop plastic pollution, a national approach must be taken by the federal government.

Single use plastic, plastic that cannot be readily recycled, and substances using plastic microbeads must be phased out. Every action to introduce alternatives to plastic products, to reduce over-packaging, and to set up viable businesses in the recycling of plastics, will help to break the chain that ends in disposal as waste and into our oceans.

Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

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