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Hamish Champ is the editor of PRW. When not doinghis day job he finds time to ride his motorcycle, listen to Deep Purple and take his 12 year-old son to the cinema/park/football/pub...

Don't blame the plastics industry for marine waste

Posted on 20 October 2014

The way some people argue it you would think that you – yes you, working in the plastics industry – are to blame for every living creature that dies as a result of ingesting or being caught up in discarded plastic.

Thoughtless consumers can cause wildlife distress

The billions of plastic caps, closures, bottles, bungs, automotive components, toys and whatnot being made every week are a source of shame, some would have you believe.

We hear from time to time talk of the Pacific Gyre, where a mass of waste plastic the size of Texas is said to be floating near Hawaii, although some dispute the size and scale of the offending ‘island’.

What few people in the anti-plastic camp will acknowledge is the main culprit for this sort of waste ending up in the world’s oceans or on its beaches is the consumer.

Do injection machinery makers, polymer distributors, hopper manufacturers or well known High Street brands that use plastic packaging or car makers who create more fuel efficient vehicles via the use of plastic dump this rubbish in the world’s oceans?

No, they don’t. But many people think that as part of the plastics industry they are to blame. And few commentators challenge this view.

With this in mind I would like to raise a glass (and sorry people, but it’s a glass glass, not a plastic glass) to one Neil Jameson, a writer on the Australian news website the Newcastle Herald.

True, in a recent article he describes that 75% of the “crap” that litters many of Australia’s beaches as being plastic-derived, and yes, he cites the fact that plastics production shows “no sign of slowing” and more birds and marine animals will end up with small bits of plastic in their guts, with often mortal results.

But rather than lambasting the plastics industry as is often the case in such pieces he highlights that a new report by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has found that instead of such plastic waste drifting onto the country’s beaches from faraway lands via ocean currents the majority of coastal rubbish comes from…Australia.

“Yep,” he writes, “we’re crapping in our own nest.”

The CSIRO report concludes that the two main drivers behind marine debris were general public behaviour and illegal dumping. 

Jameson urges good-minded Australians to take a bag – presumably a plastic one – with them the next time they stroll along their favourite beach and to collect as much plastic waste as they can and dispose of it properly.

A very laudable call to make, I think you’ll agree.

Even better would be for Australians and indeed people the world over to take their litter home with them. That, and for governments to crack down even harder on those who sail the globe's seas and think it acceptable to chuck their ‘crap’ over the side.

Comments:

Good idea to write about the issue of marine litter. The question is not who to blame, but how to find out more, get the facts on the table. As consultants we are asked by the Norwegian Environment Agency to find the key sources for microplastic (or better polymer or synthetic particles) pollution in the North Sea. We are not blaming anyone, but some industries believe so and try to hide. This is not the time for hiding, and there are no place to hide. Let us together get the facts and obtain a good dialogue. Join the debate.. whoever lost their plastic fishing gear, dumped their waste on illegal landfills etc. Very good idea, by the way, to clean the beaches for macro plastics before it degrades to microplastics, so far people clean up the plastics for free. Micro polymer particles also stem from many sources, such as your laundry machine. Thanks to PlasticsEurope for being proactive, that is an attitude for the future. Join the party!

- 21 October 2014 - PETER SUNDT

We are all aware of the issues of plastic debris clogging the ecosystem and while everyone is pointing fingers at the plasic industry i would like to point out that we have all seen the films where "Rubbish Barges" set out to sea to dump their cargo and it is well known that container ships loose thousands of containers overboard every year spilling their contents into the oceans, but just sitting back tut tutting will not remedy the situation. Nor will carelessly dropping plastic onto beaches or rivers , its time we all took a step forward no matter how small and governments need to lead by example by tackling waste disposal and helping to clean up the mess.. If it was Oil there would be uproar but no one wants to foot the bill for cleaning up "Other Peoples Waste".... Well its time we did something as individuals as well as globally. Each week i take my Grandson out for a treat but before he gets his treat we do a bit of litter picking along the canal bank - this not only shows him that the good things in life has a cost but also teaches him responsibility for his environment.

- 20 October 2014 - Barney

Hi Hamish, Interesting, in Australia a lot of work going on with using Microbes to eat up the plastic waste and other stuff - we are messy bunch :) Check out these articles 'Plastic-eating' microbes may help marine debris sink –http://ow.ly/D1Mhv http://youtu.be/a_HWlFzgQiM Best Regards Gary

- 20 October 2014 - Gary Watkins

Around 80% of marine litter is from land-based sources – much of it from post-consumer collection sites. It’s not a personal litter issue, it’s down to how collected waste in handled, stored and treated. Better to spend time/money securing collected waste than walking around picking up beach litter – a feel-good activity for middle glass greens that achieves sod all. What next I wonder – waste sorting with tweezes while wearing a blindfold?

- 20 October 2014 - Danny Plastic

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