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Australian draft plan aims to reduce marine debris

PLASTICS NEWS

Canberra, Australia -- The Australian Government has issued a draft threat abatement plan with strategies to reduce marine debris.

The plan specifically targets plastic litter.

It said marine debris, particularly plastic, is harmful to marine wildlife, with impacts caused through entanglement, ingestion and contamination.

The draft threat abatement plan for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine species follows an Australian Senate inquiry on the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia, which released a report in April 2016.

The draft plan said marine debris impacts have been documented for seabirds, marine turtles, cetaceans, sharks and other Australian marine wildlife, including many species listed as threatened.

The Federal Government has sought public comment on the draft plan and will then release a final plan.

The draft contains six major objectives, including research to understand and mitigate the impacts of microplastic and plastic debris, monitor hazardous chemical contaminants in marine debris, increase public awareness of issues like microplastic contamination and identify key species and ecosystems impacted by marine debris.

The draft, developed by the Department of the Environment and Energy, said a 2016 systematic review of ecological impacts of marine debris found 82 percent was plastic.

A scientific paper published in Marine Policy last year found fishing gear, balloons and plastic bags were the biggest entanglement threat to marine fauna. Plastic bags and utensils were rated the biggest ingestion risk for seabirds, turtles and marine mammals.

"Ingestion of microplastic provides a potential pathway for the transfer of pollutants, monomers, and plastic additives to organisms with uncertain consequences for their health," the draft plan said.

It also cited a 2013 scientific report that found marine plastics in Australian waters were predominantly microplastics resulting from the breakdown of larger polyethylene and polypropylene objects.

The plan said domestic policies on materials, supply chains, product stewardship, waste management and resource recovery could minimize the volume of debris entering the ocean.

It noted that "Plastic Free July," an initiative developed by local governments in Perth, Western Australia, was an example of "effective community-based action aimed at raising awareness of issues associated with single-use disposable plastic."

The initiative encourages the public to refuse single-use plastic every July, focusing on plastic bags, bottles, takeaway coffee cups and straws.

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