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Towards a zero litter to ocean policy

Plastics are now a core element to modern life on Earth, they are used in all sectors from medicine to food and construction and the demand for plastics is steadily increasing. It is estimated that 150 million tonnes of plastic currently resides in marine environments globally and if that plastic is not removed or stopped from entering oceans it will continue to break down into increasingly smaller pieces that are harmful to the environment.

While plastics are a significant issue to our marine environments, major rain events cause pollutants, waste and toxins to flow freely through stormwater drains. Stormwater treatment devices that are not maintained allow even more contaminated wastewater to flow directly to drains and into streams, rivers and oceans.

Currently, there is limited legislation in place for local, state and federal governments to monitor or clean Gross Pollutant Traps (GPTs) on both private lots and public lands. Local councils around Australia do not currently have excess funds in their budgets to clean these overfilled and fermenting traps and this needs to change in hopes of reducing the amount of litter that enters our oceans.

On urban lands larger than 2,000 sqm, there are no regulations that require the mandatory inspection and cleaning of GPTs. This is despite the existence of recycling programs that are committed to ongoing innovation and improvement of the treatment of stormwater assets, by separating rich organic materials for recycling back into markets. In a recent report, it was revealed that they recycle up to 90 per cent of recovered wastes from stormwater assets.

What is a ‘zero litter to ocean’ policy?

A ‘Zero Litter to Ocean’ policy sees a range of initiatives implemented to stop pollutants like plastics, sediments, heavy metals, tyre runoff, cigarette butts and nitrogen being washed down drains and straight into our waterways. The policy includes the rectification, installation and appropriate management of existing and new stormwater treatment assets.

So why should all levels of government adopt and invest in a ‘Zero Litter to Ocean’ policy?

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