Canberra, Australia — The Australian Government plans to release an updated plan next year to reduce plastic and marine debris that endangers seabirds, turtles and other marine life.
The revised plan will include input from a two-day workshop attended by a wide range of stakeholders, including representatives from the Melbourne-based Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association (PACIA) and the Sydney-based Australian Packaging Covenant (APC).
APC is a government-industry partnership that aims to reduce and reuse consumer packaging waste.
A spokesman for the Canberra-based federal environment department said the August workshop was a one-off event to support revising Australia's Threat abatement plan for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine life.
Asked about the industry association's involvement in the workshop, a PACIA spokesman said because the process to revise the plan is “still in the policy planning stage it is not the right time to comment.”
Workshop participants included Brisbane, Australia-based scientist Qamar Schuyler, who produced a research report that found 52 percent of marine turtles worldwide are likely to have eaten plastic debris. Her report followed a similar study of seabirds that found 60 percent of the world's seabirds have plastic fragments in their stomachs. It predicts the figure will increase to 99 percent by 2050.
The seabird study, conducted by scientists from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and Imperial College London, was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Schuyler's research was published in the scientific journal, Global Change Biology.
The environment department spokesman said other workshop participants were researchers from CSIRO and universities with expertise in marine debris, eco-toxicology and wildlife ecology; non-government organizations involved in animal welfare, removing debris from beaches and lobbying for better outcomes for the marine environment; and representatives of Australian and state government agencies.
She said the workshop generated ideas on how to reduce the amount of marine debris in Australian waters, especially for threatened marine species affected by plastic and other debris.
“The ideas will be used to build a revised version of the threat abatement plan. A draft document will be reviewed by the federal environment minister's advisory committee, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, and released for public comment next year,” she said.
Suggestions from the workshop for potential action included:
• Encouraging change in consumer behavior through community education on the environmental impacts of discarded plastic products.
• Increasing recycling capability in regional areas.
• Increasing use of recycled products.
• Focusing on alternatives to single-use plastic bags and encouraging Australian states and territories to extend lightweight plastic bag bans.
• Introducing “no waste day” events, for example for at Australia Day celebrations.
• Phasing out or considering other material for balloons, because marine turtles can confuse balloons floating in the water for jellyfish, one of their major food sources.
• Training for fishers in the Asia Pacific region to limit the volume of lost and discarded fishing nets entering Australian waters.
The workshop considered potential research to identify cost-effective locations for removing lost and discarded fishing gear from the sea, based on drift patterns. “Subsequently this largely plastic material could be used in waste-to-energy systems at remote locations,” the environment department spokesman said.