THE McGowan government needs to follow South Australia and Queensland’s lead and urgently extend plastic bans to cover a wider range of the junk that ends up polluting our oceans, says a coalition of conservation groups.
The groups, which are organising a beach clean-up and movie screenings for Sustainable September, have written to WA environment minister Stephen Dawson asking him to look into the eastern staters’ bans and adopt them here.
South Australia introduced legislation in May this year, which immediately bans plastic straws, cutlery and stirrers, while phasing out polystyrene cups and food containers and products made of oxo-degradable plastics (bags the degrade rather than compost) after 12 months. The legislation flags further restrictions on all disposable coffee cups, thick plastic bags and more takeaway food containers after additional consultation.
Paddy Cullen, who’s organising the Sustainable September activities for the Perth Climate Action Team, Doctors for the Environment Australia, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change and WA Seabird Rescue, said while the McGowan government’s container deposit scheme was a welcome tool to combat litter, it had take 15 years to implement.
“We can’t wait that long; we have to move faster,” Mr Cullen said.
He says the government has to work to drastically curb “virgin plastics” which are manufactured directly from the by-products of fossil fuels and contain no recycled material, and develop a “circular economy” such as the European Commission’s, which heavily promotes the re-use and ultimate recycling of plastic materials and makes the manufacturers responsible for the product from its production to its demise.
Mr Cullen said they’d be inviting the minister to a clean-up at Bather’s Beach in Fremantle on October 3 from 10am, and the movie screening of Albatross in Maylands on September 17 at the Uniting Church hall on Railway Parade from 6.30pm to impress on him the scale of plastic pollution and its impact on Australia’s marine environment.
A cursory Google search reveals that 8 million bits of plastic enter the ocean every minute, and that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050.
These facts are existentially terrifying – but also inspire a kind of apathy. If the problem is so immense, what difference does one more Coke bottle lid or take-away coffee cup make?
If this type of indifference feels familiar: go and watch Albatross.
It documents the life of an albatross colony on Midway Island in the North Pacific, more than 2500km from the nearest continent. This isolation is no protection from the outside world.
The tragic cost of pollution is made jarringly clear by shots of albatross hatchlings choking on rubbish, and of dead fledglings with debris-filled stomachs.
Mr Cullen hopes the movie will help recruit more anti-plastic crusaders and put a fire under the minister’s enthusiasm for protecting the environment.
“I could throw fact sheets and statistics at you and you might think briefly about the problem. But Albatross pulls at the heartstrings, it’s incredibly touching, and it will get people involved.”
As part of the Bathers Beach clean up , Mr Cullen’s team have used pieces of recycled plastic to make a giant pair of albatross wings and a transparent ’stomach’ that helpers can fill with litter.
Albatross is a terrifying movie. But it’s also an antidote to defeatism; if every piece of plastic that goes into the ocean matters, every piece that comes out does, too, Mr Cullen says.
Mr Dawson told the Voice any further inroads into reducing single-use plastics had been put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic but an announcement might come later in the year.
“Western Australia’s container deposit scheme, Containers for Change, will also increase recycling of beverage containers and reduce litter.
“Further action on single-use plastics is being informed by the almost 9500 submissions received as part of the release of the Let’s Not Draw the Short Straw issues paper last year,” Mr Dawson said.
“The WA community supports reducing single-use plastics, with more than 98 per cent of submissions to the issues paper supporting further action.”
by LOTTIE ELTON and STEVE GRANT