Study highlights greater pollution than previously estimated

Plastic waste in the ocean is making its way back to land and increasing pollution on Australia’s beaches, according to new research from CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.

According to a CSIRO statement, the research explains why estimates of waste entering the ocean each year are 100 times larger than the amount of plastic observed floating on the surface, and suggests waste management strategies on land need to accommodate larger volumes of pollution than previously estimated.

“These findings highlight the importance of including the entire width of coastal areas in studies to understand how much – and where – debris gets trapped,” the statement reads.

“This is critical for developing targeted waste management policies, particularly in areas with large regional populations, to reduce litter ending up in our oceans and along our coasts.”

CSIRO Principal Research Scientist Denise Hardesty said researchers collected data on the amount and location of plastic pollution every 100 kilometres around the entire coast of Australia between 2011 and 2016.

“The highest concentrations of marine debris were found along the coastal backshores, where the vegetation begins,” Dr Hardesty said.

Utrecht University’s Arianna Olivelli, who led the analysis, said findings indicate that coasts are a major sink for marine debris, particularly for larger debris items.

“The debris recorded along the coasts was found to be a mix of littering and deposition from the ocean,” she said.

“The results suggest that plastic is moving from urban areas into the ocean, and then being transported back onshore and pushed onto land, where it remains.”

Ms Olivelli said onshore wind and waves, together with more densely populated areas, influences the amount and distribution of marine debris.

“The further back we went from the water’s edge, the more debris we found,” she said.

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China to ban non-degradable plastic

China is phasing out the sale and manufacture of non-degradable plastic products, with the aim of curbing pollution in major cities.

In addition to setting timelines to ban or restrict single-use, non-degradable plastic products, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment has pledged to ramp up recycling and introduce preferential policies to promote green packaging and express delivery.

According to a ministry statement, the country is expected to significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste sent to landfill and bring plastic pollution under control in major cities by 2025.

The production and sale of disposable foam plastic tableware and plastic cotton swabs will be banned by the end of this year.

The production of household chemicals containing plastic micro-beads will also be prohibited by the end of 2020, with the sale of those products banned by 2022.

“Bans on the sale of other non-degradable plastic products will be rolled out in phases in different levels of cities and major plastic-consuming sectors,” the statement reads.

“The use of non-degradable plastic bags, for example, is expected to vanish in some major consuming sectors, including shopping malls, supermarkets and restaurant takeout services, first in metropolises by the end of this year, and then in all major Chinese cities and urban areas in coastal regions by the end of 2022.”

China Plastic Processing Industry Association Secretary-General Weng Yunxuan has applauded the ban’s phased approach.

“The ban will not be imposed all of a sudden, but phase by phase. The current production capacity (for substitute products) in China will not fail to meet the market gap caused by the ban,” Mr Yunxuan said.

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Pacific Environment Ministers meet in Samoa

Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Assistant Minister Trevor Evans has meet with representatives from 21 Pacific Island Nations, New Zealand, the United States, France and the United Kingdom, to discuss key environmental issues facing the region.

Mr Evans attended the Talanoa Dialogue in Samoa, which is designed to facilitate participatory conversations about complex issues, as part of the 29th Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

SPREP Ministers called for urgent action to support the Pacific Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter 2018-2025, and urged members to accelerate policies and actions that embrace sustainable materials management and drive sustainable practices to reduce plastic pollution.

“A healthy and clean Pacific Ocean is essential to the quality of life and economic security of all Pacific Island Nations, and Australia is working with our Pacific family to make this happen, including investing $16 million to fund the Pacific Ocean Litter Project to tackle plastics polluting the region’s marine environment,” Mr Evans said.

“There are some tough and critical issues and no easy answers. But reaching shared solutions means having the conversation and mapping out agreed practical actions.”

According to Mr Evans, an Australia minister has not attended the biennial meeting in over a decade.

“Australia’s presence here builds on the outcomes of the recent Pacific Islands Forum, and reinforces Prime Minister Morrison’s message that Australia appreciates the issues faced by the Pacific are real and immediate,” Mr Evans said.

“Australia is fully engaged and strongly committed to working through these shared challenges in our region.”

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Potential emergency plastic tax by 2021: report

The plastic waste crisis is expected to deepen, potentially leading to a federal response in the form of an emergency tax by 2021, according to global wealth manager Credit Suisse.

It argues that reactionary policy measures are highly likely in the short term and could include a tax on virgin resins or additional tariffs placed on imported plastic goods in its report, The age of plastic at a tipping point.

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With too much plastic waste domestically and with no large export markets available, Credit Suisse estimates there will be a sharp increase in plastic being sent to landfill and illegal dumping.

“Our headline view is that things will get worse before they get better: the policy initiatives in the National Waste Strategy won’t take hold until FY20/21,” the report said.

Credit Suisse expects bans on single use-plastics to be extended to the six most common plastic packaging and tax incentives to be provided to help hit the 2025 target of 30 per cent recycled content in packaging.

The long lead time from policy approval to implementation is problematic, particularly for new waste infrastructure, which the company said will likely lead to a more supportive project approval environment for waste infrastructure.

Waste managers are expected to benefit from this scenario, with short term potential from council re-negotiations and long-term potential to fast-track waste infrastructure approvals, according to the report.

“Plastic has infiltrated almost every aspect of human life. It is the most prolific material on the planet, growing faster than any commodity in the last 33 years,” the report said.

“Plastic packaging has become one of the most intractable environmental challenges of our age. None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable; they accumulate in landfills or the natural environment rather than decompose.

“To curtail the situation in the short run, it is a matter of when, not if, we see reactionary policy measures,” the report said.

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