At the last meeting of environment ministers the issue of removing plastic bags from the litter stream and marine environment was discussed. Since that time the need for a ban and significantly reducing the landfilling of plastic has become even more urgent.
There is increasing evidence that even though a small percentage of bags are littered and then broken up into smaller and smaller pieces – they have a devastating impact on the environment. This includes so called ‘biodegradable’ bags, which are just as dangerous in the marine environment.
With the CSIRO Marine Debris Report 2014 estimating there are over 124 billion individual pieces of visible plastic littering the Australian coastline – and a large legacy of plastic from previous years becoming microplastic – action needs to be taken on multiple fronts.
Plastic pollution is a major threat to wildlife. Globally it is estimated that 1 million sea birds and over 100,000 mammals die every year as a result of plastic ingestion or entanglement. Of great concern are the secondary microplastics derived from broken up bags and bottles.
The CSIRO suggest that ‘by 2050 ‘99% of all sea birds will have plastic in their gut’. In Queensland, research conducted by the UQ Research Station on Stradbroke Island has concluded that 30% of sea turtles deaths in Moreton Bay are attributable to plastic ingestion, with a further 6% due to entanglement.
As our understanding of the threat of marine plastic pollution improves – the impacts are being rapidly upgraded – most recently, in September this year, Queensland University expanded on CSIRO’s previous estimates in the Scientific Journal ‘Global Change Biology’ concluding that “over half of the world’s sea turtles have eaten plastic or human rubbish”.
Recent data released by the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service found that over 70% of loggerhead turtles found dead in Queensland waters have ingested plastic.
We estimate that some 180million bags enter the Australian environment every year (2% of consumption).
We are calling on Environment Ministers to take action and ban single use plastic bags.