It was a Saturday night and because I had no food for dinner at home, I ran to the supermarket for my weekly shop. The pre-packaged sushi was discounted and seemed like a great, quick and easy meal idea - until I opened the plastic packaging. Hidden behind the price label was ginger in a plastic wrapper, wasabi in a plastic sachet and soy sauce in plastic foil. So much plastic, and even worse - it was all single-use!
I couldn’t reuse it and I’m sceptical of whether they could be or would be recycled. As a coastal-lifestyle enthusiast, I only hope they don’t end up in our seas.
Plastics exist forever in our marine environment. Plastic pieces, large and small, drift on ocean currents and entangle marine life. Sea turtles and birds often confuse plastic for food and consume it. You may not always see the plastic pollution, as sun and waves break it up into smaller and smaller pieces. These pieces, no bigger than 5mm, are known as microplastics. Despite being minuscule, they have a big impact.
- Scientists predict by 2050 there will be more plastics in the ocean than fish!
- In southern Australia alone, up to 1500 seals and sea lions become entangled in plastic pollution and die every year.
- More than one-third of sea turtles in Queensland’s Moreton Bay area die from pollution ingestion or entanglement.
I was surprised how few plastic bags were collected at recent clean ups around Darwin’s local beaches with our volunteers, Rosebery School and Marrara Christian College. This is a good sign and could be due to Darwin’s single-use plastic bag ban that’s been in place since September 2011. There weren’t many plastic bottles either, which is shocking considering Australians buy 600 million litres of bottled water every year. Maybe this is reflective of the Territory’s cash for containers scheme. Both are admirable initiatives to help reduce plastic pollution.
Our love for packaged market food was evident though. We collected a high quantity of plastic takeaway containers. These containers are quite durable, and can be taken to the market to reuse again and again.
In total, across three clean up sites (Vestey’s, Lee Point and Dripstone Cliffs) we collected 135 kilograms of rubbish. 80 kilograms of this was collected within 30 minutes at Vestey’s - a surprise for all the volunteers who joined in. It was also surprising that the rubbish was devoid of barnacles. We suspect the rubbish hasn’t been deposited on our beaches by the tide, but left behind by coastal-users. We collected bottle caps, food wrappers, aluminium cans, straws, plastic drinking cups, car tyres, towels, thongs, balls, even a plastic garbage bin and lid buried in the sand (unfortunately, not a matching set).
Plastic pollution is gaining global attention. Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has recently committed $60,000 to kick-start research into Australian plastic pollution reduction. Twenty-year-old Boyan Slat will launch The Ocean Cleanup in 2020, which comprises a network of floating barriers that allow ocean currents to passively gather the pollution into a central location, where it is collected for recycling. Two Australian surfers are about to launch an innovative floating, automated rubbish bin: The Seabin Project.
There are many people working to lessen this problem. It is one threat to our marine life that each of us can actively reduce. We can join a clean up event or pick up litter individually. Or, even before it’s travelled to our beaches and waterways, we can be a conscious consumer. We can stop and think about what we buy, and say no to single-use, unnecessary items, like straws and takeaway containers. I know I will think twice before buying pre-packaged supermarket sushi again. Every little bit makes a difference.
We send a huge thank you to our volunteers, supporters, Rosebery Middle School and Marrara Christian College who got their hands dirty to clean our coastal areas for Clean Up Australia.