Plastics, Recycling and the Ocean

Rubbish and plastics in particular are overwhelming our oceans. An large swirl of garbage in the northern Pacific Ocean is estimated to be nearly three times the size of France.  For fish and the broader marine environment, the impact is devastating. Trash is mistaken for healthy food; tangled waste acts as a deadly web and micro plastics alter the fundamentals of the marine food chain.  The problem is getting worse, not better, and, by the year 2050, it is forecasted there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean by weight1

There are many components to the solution ranging from mandated restrictions on single-use plastics to development of sustainable plastic substitutes to enhanced recycling initiatives.  AOI is focusing on the latter: the role of recycling. Effective recycling programs can play an important part in minimizing plastic ocean debris by facilitating reuse of otherwise single-use plastics and facilitating proper disposal of plastic. Councils around Australia already operate a variety of recycling programs, however questions abound as to the credibility, efficacy and more recently, sustainability of these programs.  China’s recent announcement that it will no longer accept Australia’s waste threatens the ongoing viability of curb-side recycling efforts.  

The Australian Oceans’ plastics recycling project will address the issue through a mulit-tiered approach, leveraging community engagement, social media and policy research. The project will include:

  • A social media campaign promoting plastic cleanup and recycling. The campaign will seek to raise awareness of the issue, provide updates on available solutions and promote the need for each of us to do our part.  Instagramand twitteraccounts will build a community of supporters through photos of cleanup efforts and insights to local and global developments. Additional high-impact social media events will be organised where funding is available.
  • Individual and community plastic pick-up initiative.  Building on the social media campaign, AOI will encourage individual action, asking each supporter to pick up at least one piece of plastic rubbish as part of their daily routine.  Individual action will be expanded to broader communities, including walking groups, cycling clubs and surfing competitions to cleanup their local storm-water pathways that feed plastic to the ocean. 
  • A research report on best practice recycling policy. A peer reviewed research report will breakdown the nuances of the plastic recycling situation in Australia today and provide a comparative study to other best-practice recycling programs, including samples from Germany, Italy and Japan.  

Combining the three initiatives in the one project offers the ability to engage a broader community in both a short-term hands-on solution and support of a thoroughly researched long-term policy solution. 


1 The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and World Economic Forum, 2016