An Australian government study of plastic marine pollution has heard that the country's plastics recycling rate is far below previous reports.
During a hearing last month in Sydney, Dave West, national policy director for the Boomerang Alliance, said the Australian Packaging Covenant – a body made up of industry and government representatives – has admitted its plastics recycling rate is about 28%.
“Australia is losing the race to stem the plastic tide even as it decimates wildlife and contaminates the food chain with increasing speed and toxicity. Scientists are now reporting an average seabird's diet contains 11,000 pieces of plastic a year,” he said.
West and Jeff Angel, director of the Sydney-based Total Environment Centre and a director of the Boomerang Alliance, spoke during an Australian Senate inquiry.
The federal senate is conducting an inquiry into plastics on Australia's waterways and is due to report on that study in April.
Angel said federal government departments had “spent years getting the data wrong, commissioning cost benefit studies that came to erroneous conclusions, and fiddling about”.
Angel criticised state and territory environment ministers' endorsement of voluntary action on microbeads.
“The US Congress has acted decisively on microbeads, passing a law to ban them and so-called biodegradable plastic alternatives, yet Australia is still relying on voluntary industry actions, which invariably have loopholes,” he said.
Angel and West said the Boomerang Alliance wants container deposits in all states and territories; bans on free plastic shopping bags; and a ban on microbeads in cosmetics and cleansers, to be replaced by “safe alternatives.”
Their comments were among 191 submissions, primarily from environmental groups and scientists, to the government study.
The plastics industry also submitted comments for the report. In its submission, the Melbourne-based Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association (PACIA) said plastic was present in marine debris because of poor or insufficient waste management; insufficient recycling and recovery, and bad practice such as littering.
“These are large, complex issues with societal and economic challenges and are more than any single entity, industry, or government can solve,” PACIA director Peter Bury said.
“Consistent with the principles of the product stewardship approach, which shares responsibility for complex issues, the PACIA is involved in strategies and programmes that play a role in reducing and managing marine litter,” he said.
The PACIA is a member of a global alliance of industry associations, Marine Litter Solutions, which is committed to the principle that plastics do not belong in the world's oceans and should not be littered.
“Plastics should be responsibly used, reused, recycled and finally recovered for their energy value,” Bury said.