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7 solutions to Australia’s plastic problem

September 23rd, 2021
topic: Pollution
by: Isaja Karadakovska
located in: Australia
tags: climate crisis, marine life, ocean pollution, plastic pollution, recycling

Australia may be the smallest continent in the world, but it has an enormous effect on ocean pollution due to the amount of plastic it produces.

According to plastic recycling statistics, about 80 percent of Australia’s waste ends up in the ocean. This plastic causes adverse effects on marine life and ultimately human health.

Australia needs to find a way to mitigate the effects of plastic waste on the environment, reduce its production and educate the population about how to positively contribute to the solution. 

Here are seven ways to improve how Australia deals with plastic waste on a governmental and individual level. 

Increase the Plastic Recycling Rate

The average Australian tosses about 15.6 kgs of plastic annually. While the overall recycling rates have reached 60 percent, plastic recycling has remained at just 12 percent, making it the lowest recycling rate in Australia. 

One of the best ways to increase the plastic recycling rate is through education. By educating the general population about recycling symbols, where to locate them on packages and which ones are recyclable will help people make better choices about the plastic they use. 

Australia is working on spreading the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle message, but the legislative aspects of recycling also need to be addressed. The country lacks the technology and infrastructure to recycle larger volumes of plastic and, in the future, needs to invest more in the recycling industry. 

Reduce the Plastic Waste 

When it comes to the primary source of plastic pollution, the manufacturing industry is actually in second place, contributing to 15 percent of Australian plastic waste. The primary contributors are private households, which produce 1.2 million tons of plastic per year, or 47 percent of all plastic waste in Australia. 

Unfortunately, there is little the country can do but help individuals learn about reducing the amount of plastic they use in their homes. People should be educated about how to lead more sustainable lifestyles and encouraged to switch to reusable items, or non-plastic alternatives. 

Based on the statistics, 90 percent of Australian consumers and businesses are concerned about sustainability. If Australia promotes and supports sustainable businesses for the mutual benefit of the country and individuals, environmental change can be realised. 

Support Volunteers and Organisations

Plastic bags are a known threat to turtles and other marine life, and are the most significant pollutant on the continent. Plastic bags represent 16.6 percent of collected marine waste, and can last up to 1,000 years in the environment, polluting both the air and water. 

In response, many organisations base their work on volunteers eager to reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean and waters. These organisations work hard to clean up the oceans, and some promise to remove up to 90 percent of waste. 

Australia is also showing support by implementing various strategic plans and investing millions in reducing marine litter. Some of these projects include: The Pacific Ocean Litter Project; The Reef 2050 Plan; and Threat Abatement Plan for the Impacts of Marine Debris on Vertebrate Marine Life.

Introduce Bans on Single-Use Plastic

One of Australia's plans to fight plastic waste includes prohibiting single-use plastic by 2025. Items that will be banned include straws, disposable cutlery and even microbeads in cosmetics. 

Queensland already implemented some of these resolutions and will ban single-use plastic starting from September 2021. Still, people with disabilities who need plastic to function properly will be exempt. 

Even though this ban will represent a considerable change across many industries, it is expected to significantly help in reducing the amount of single-use plastic in homes and businesses and, by extension, the environment. 

Improve Waste Export Management 

Many industrialised nations have decided to outsource their waste recycling to other countries because it is cheap, helps meet recycling goals and reduces waste in domestic landfills. Despite the intention to recycle abroad, however, plastic still ends up in the world’s oceans. 

In 2020, Australia created a Recycling and Waste Reduction Act that regulates waste export. This legislation bans the export of mixed plastics and unprocessed single polymer or resin plastics. The following items can still be exported in 2021: some types of processed glass; plastic sorted into single resin or polymer type; plastic processed with other materials into engineered fuel; and various types of differently processed tires.

Work on Global Agreements 

Australia is not the only country with a plastic waste problem. South Korea, Germany, the UK and the US also contribute to global plastic waste production. On the other hand, Indonesia and India ranked the highest for the amount of plastic waste dumped into the oceans. 

This is why many governments are working on global agreements that are supposed to reduce plastic waste in oceans. For example, the Australian government will pursue the Global Action on Marine Plastic Pollution. 

It will also establish an Indonesia-Australia Systemic Innovation Lab on Marine Plastic Waste under the CSIRO leadership. The idea behind the partnership is to improve bilateral relationships and cooperate to improve sustainable and inclusive economic growth. 

Continuously Working on Research and Data

Finally, Australia should keep working on research, innovation and data to find new methods to deal with plastic waste. The efforts are visible since the government has invested $20.6 million to create a public-facing Waste Data Visualization Platform that displays information about the type of waste scattered across Australia. 

Australia will also invest $29.1 million in various research projects that demonstrate new recycling methods and reduce their amount on landfills. 

The National Circular Economy Roadmap for Plastics, Paper, Glass, Paper and Tyres will develop pathways for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia, and will also be used by governments, researchers and industries to help manage future investment decisions, research priorities and more. 

Final Word

It appears that Australia can improve in several areas when it comes to plastic waste. The general population is worried that their country isn’t doing enough, and businesses want to contribute to environmental change as well. 

Even though there are many plans and legal documents involved, it seems that a few more years need to pass for Australia to see results in terms of reducing plastic usage and ocean waste. 

Luckily, the Australian government is actively working on banning single-use plastic, promoting global partnerships and focusing on research and data that will help the country improve its recycling methods. 

Isaja Karadakovska is a content writer at Take a Tumble - a platform dedicated to providing impactful, detailed and research-based information about environmentally conscious practices.

Image by: Nariman Mesharrafa

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Isaja Karadakovska
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According to plastic recycling statistics, about 80 percent of Australia’s waste ends up in the ocean.
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A worker prepares pure copper cables for export to China at a Sydney Copper Scraps facility in Sydney, Australia.
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