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Beach Patrol volunteers left to bear the burden due to government inaction

Eco Voice
Eco Voice
First published in 2003, Eco Voice is your go-to publication for sustainability news in Australia. Eco Voice prides itself as an independent news platform with a clear focus on sustainability, with articles coming from a diverse range of contributors – all levels of government, corporations, not-for-profits, community groups, small to medium sized businesses, universities, research organisations, together with input from international sources. Eco Voice values community, conservation and commerce. Eco Voice is a media partner of the prestigious Australian Banksia Sustainability Awards – The Peak Sustainability Awards.

A typical beach clean-up for Beach Patrol 3280-3284 where the marine debris
collected is from high-sea activities rather than land-based sources.

In the lead up to World Ocean Day (8th June), BeachPatrol is sounding the alarm about the real source of ocean plastic pollution: high-sea activities. Despite the commonly held belief that most ocean plastic comes from land-based sources, BeachPatrol Warrnambool ’s comprehensive research over the past seven years reveals a different story.

Rising shipping litter: a growing concern

The Bottles Overboard Project, initiated by our dedicated community action group, focuses on the foreign bottles and packaging washing up on the beaches of Southwest Victoria. Through meticulous data collection and analysis, we have determined that the majority of marine debris originates from high-sea activities, primarily fishing and shipping waste.

In 2024 alone, out of 667 drink bottles collected from our beaches, a staggering 435 were foreign drink bottles not sold in Australia. Only 58 were branded bottles sold in Australia, and 172 were bottles with missing labels or unknown brands. Our data shows that 80 per cent of the 3,900 plastic branded items collected over seven years originated from Asia.

Volunteers’ efforts and frustration

BeachPatrol’s volunteers tirelessly clean beaches every day, documenting and tracing the origins of plastic waste. Despite our efforts, the problem persists and worsens, with a notable increase in shipping waste since 2020. We, the volunteers, are increasingly frustrated as we are left with the responsibility of cleaning up after multi-trillion-dollar industry polluters while Government agencies remain inactive.

Calls for Government action

Colleen Hughson, BeachPatrol 3280 says, “We have reached out to the State Minister of Transport and the EPA, but our pleas have been largely ignored. To address this critical issue, we propose the following actions by the state government:”

  1. Mandatory garbage disposal fees: Integrate garbage disposal costs into port fees.
  2. Enhanced rubbish reception facilities: Ensure ports have adequate infrastructure to handle waste from ships.

“Implementing these actions is crucial for reducing the amount of litter dumped by merchant ships.

The misleading definition of ‘ocean plastic’

A fundamental concern is the misleading definition of ‘ocean plastic’. The term ‘ocean plastic’ or ‘ocean bound plastic’ is widely misunderstood by the public. Most people assume it refers to plastic that is actually in the ocean or washed up on beaches. However, the current industry definition includes plastic found  or manufactured up to 50 kilometres away from any coastline, encompassing environments such as freshwater and drainage systems.

This broad definition distorts the reality of what ‘ocean plastic’ truly is, leading to ineffective policies and strategies. There is no government-accepted definition of ‘ocean plastic’, and the plastics industry’s definition lacks scientific substantiation. This discrepancy means that current legislation and waste policies, which address ‘ocean plastic’, often fail to tackle the plastic actually in the ocean.

Complexity should not be an excuse

Colleen adds, “Government agencies often cite the complexity of policing the shipping industry as a reason for inaction. However, the real complexity lies in dealing with the consequences of ocean pollution: plastic breaking up in our oceans, killing marine life, and contaminating the ecosystem. It is far more manageable to enforce proper waste disposal protocols for a single industry than to handle the widespread environmental damage it causes.”

“On this World Ocean Day, we urge the government to take immediate and decisive action to address ocean-sourced plastic pollution. Our oceans and coastal communities cannot continue to bear the burden of an issue that can and must be resolved through responsible governance and industry accountability. The time to act is now.” Colleen says.


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