Beyond plastic pollution: solutions for a small planet
Author: Rebecca Gilling
A three-day conference recently held in Sydney: Beyond Plastic Pollution – Pathways to Cleaner Oceans highlighted a large and growing global problem but also gave hope with some inspiring initiatives. Over the next few issues of Positive Environment News Planet Ark will bring you some of those good news stories.
Of the 300 million tonnes of plastic that is produced every year around the world, only about 10% is recycled. An estimated 8 million tonnes enter the world’s oceans annually - that’s 15 plastic shopping bags full of plastic waste for every metre of coastline excluding Antarctica - and that rate is doubling every 11 years. The very features that make plastic so useful and convenient – being inert, durable, lightweight and waterproof – are also what make it such a problem for marine environments. Despite the durability of different types of plastic, the movement of oceans tends to break them down into ever smaller pieces called microplastics, and coupled with the microbeads found in many cleaning products and cosmetics, these small particles are increasingly found in the digestive tracts of marine animals, particularly fish and seabirds, potentially impacting human health as well.
China accounts for about one-third of marine plastic pollution, and Indonesia around 10%. While Australia is not in the top 20 countries (the US comes in at number 20, producing more than twice the amount per capita of China), our plastic packaging recovery rate in 2015-16 was only 31.1%. At the same time, our production of waste generally is on the rise. In the two decades to 2015 Australia’s population increased by 28% but our waste levels rose by a whopping 170%. That said, with relatively sophisticated waste and resource management systems in Australia, most of the plastic waste we generate ends up in landfill rather than our oceans and waterways. It is from developing countries without the benefit of efficient resource recovery processes that most marine plastic pollution emanates.
In response to the negative impacts on marine animals, human health and tourism in these countries, awareness of the need to take concerted action is also growing. At the East Asia Summit Conference on Marine Plastic Debris, held in Bali in September 2017, Indonesia’s Director General of ASEAN Affairs Jose Tavares noted: "We are working on regional cooperation based on a premise that if there is a regional action plan, then other countries will refer to it to make their own plans at the national level." For its part, Indonesia has committed to reduce its marine plastic pollution by 70% by 2025, as well as launching a plastic reduction campaign for both industry and communities.
- Reduce your own plastic use by avoiding single use items like plastic shopping bags and coffee cups, and replacing them with reusable alternatives
- When you’re out and about, reduce the chance of plastic littering by placing items securely in designated bins (recycling containers where possible), or if no recycling is available take them home and put them in your kerbside recycling
- Recycle your soft plastics in the REDcycle bins available at supermarkets around Australia
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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.