When it comes to how to fight ocean pollution, the plastics industry always likes to say that it wants sound science to guide government policy.
But when it comes to marine litter and plastic bottles, the good science may not be on the industry's side.
A comprehensive study released in September by Australia's national science agency argues that bottles bills are a “very successful'' strategy for fighting marine litter — a point that the plastic industry's lobbyists are probably not happy to see.
The 364-page report from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization analyzed beach litter data from all over Australia and compared it with the state of South Australia, which is the only state government there with a bottle bill system.
What they found was that in the beaches of the state of South Australia, one in 10 items recovered in cleanups were beverage containers.
Elsewhere in Australia, where there are no container deposits, bottles made up between 20 and 30 percent of the litter on beaches.
“South Australia's container deposit scheme … appears to be very successful, reducing the number of beverage containers, the dominant plastic item in the environment, by a factor of three,” CSIRO said. “We found that beverage containers make up a significantly smaller fraction of litter in cleanups from South Australia, in comparison with the other states.”
The lead author of the report, Denise Hardesty, expanded on the point in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“The waste that's associated with the beverage industry comprises about a third and some estimates are as high as a half of the marine debris we find globally,” Hardesty said.
She continues: “Observationally, we do not find full plastic bottles or cans or glass bottles in South Australia, and I would likely attribute that to the container deposit scheme that they have there.”
So the conclusion the Australian scientists draw is that bottle bills are a good way to reduce marine litter, and those bottles are a significant contributor to marine litter.
But when I go and read the plastics industry's reports on its marine pollution control, it's silent on container deposits.
The most recent report, out in July, details 185 projects that the industry is working on globally, an increase of 90 percent since 2011. That's when 47 plastics trade associations worldwide signed the “Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter.”