Five Steps to Turn Back the Tide of Plastic
Author: Carol Warwick
The ABC's War on Waste is looking at ways of combatting the huge and growing problem of plastic pollution in our oceans.
Ocean plastic is a huge problem for several reasons. Fish, marine mammals, and birds are often injured or trapped by stray plastic. They also consume waste plastic, causing toxins from plastics to make their way up the food chain into our food, or an animal may die from ingesting too much plastic. The University of Queensland recently surveyed a local turtle population and found one in three turtles had eaten plastic.
Many people are surprised to find that nurdles, the small beads used as the base material for making plastic products are also a major source of ocean pollution. As they are transported around the world they often spill from ships, trucks and containers into waterways and the wider environment.
Similarly plastic microbeads found in many cosmetics products are a big problem, and are being phased out by the USA and New Zealand, with pressure for Australia to follow.
Once in the ocean plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, making it impossible for fish and animals to avoid or distinguish from food, or to be collected and removed from the water.
How You Can Help Turn Back the Tide
Wherever possible reduce your use of plastic. Begin small:
- Switch to re-usable shopping bags.
- Carry a re-useable coffee cup
- Shop at bulk stores to avoid plastic packaging.
When you do end up with plastic items and materials recycle them whenever you can. Good recycling programs keep plastic out of landfill and the environment.
- Almost all Australians live in a council that collects plastic packaging for recycling. Check what your council accepts and follow their rules for what goes in the bin.
- Recycle soft plastics like shopping, bread, pasta, lolly and dry cleaning bags through the REDcycle program at participating supermarkets.
Pick It Up
Litter is one of the biggest sources of ocean plastic. Littered items are washed down rivers and drains directly into the ocean. So when you’re at the beach, walking the dog or heading to work, if you see it on the ground pick it up. You can also:
- Participate in local clean up events like Clean Up Australia Day
- Join one of the many local or online groups like Take Three For the Sea,The Two Hands Project or Responsible Runners.
Dispose of it Well
Don't add to the problem. When you're out and about take your litter home with you, and recycle what you can as suggested above., or place in a bin. Keep in mind:
- Cigarette butts are one of the biggest litter pollutants, take them home or put in the bin
- Overflowing bins are a big issue, material blows away or gets scattered by animals and ends up as polluntants. Don't add to an already overflowing bin, take it home.
Lobby for Change
Your personal actions are part of the solution but to really deal with this issue governments and companies need to make changes. You can help create this change.
- Support groups like the Boomerang Alliance which is working towards container deposit schemes in all states of Australia. These schemes help reduce litter.
- Support the Beat the Bead program which is working to get companies to drop the use of microbeads in cosmetics and other products.
After 12 years working in book publishing as a marketing and publicity manager, Carol decided to follow her other passion to protect the environment. Combining her love of nature and the media, Carol helps raise public awareness of Planet Ark campaigns every day.
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