Scale of plastic pollution ‘underestimated’ as scientists find 414 million pieces on remote island

Scale of plastic pollution ‘underestimated’ as scientists find 414 million pieces on remote island

May 24, 2019
Marcia González

Australia’s ‘last unspoiled island paradise’ now looks like a paradise lost, thanks to plastic pollution

A survey of plastic pollution on Australia’s remote Cocos (Keeling) Islands has revealed the territory’s beaches are quite literally awash with trash, with an estimated 414 million pieces of plastic debris.

The study, led by Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) researcher Dr Jennifer Lavers and published in the journal Scientific Reports, estimated beaches on the Indian Ocean islands are littered with 238 tonnes of plastic, including 977,000 shoes and 373,000 toothbrushes.

Lavers said remote islands that don’t have large human populations depositing rubbish nearby are an indicator of the amount of plastic debris circulating in the world’s oceans. “Islands such as these are like canaries in a coal mine and it’s increasingly urgent that we act on the warnings they are giving us,” she said. “Plastic pollution is now ubiquitous in our oceans, and remote islands are an ideal place to get an objective view of the volume of plastic debris now circling the globe.

“Our estimate of 414 million pieces weighing 238 tonnes on Cocos (Keeling) is conservative, as we only sampled down to a depth of 10 centimetres and couldn’t access some beaches that are known debris ‘hotspots’. The plastic on Cocos (Keeling) was largely single-use consumer items such as bottle caps and straws, as well as a large number of shoes and thongs [flip-flops].”

Co-author Dr Annett Finger from Victoria University said global production of plastic continues to increase, with almost half of the plastic produced over the past 60-years manufactured in the past 13 years. “The scale of the problem means cleaning up our oceans is currently not possible, and cleaning beaches once they are polluted with plastic is time consuming, costly, and needs to be regularly repeated as thousands of new pieces of plastic wash up each day.

“The only viable solution is to reduce plastic production and consumption while improving waste management to stop this material entering our oceans in the first place,” Finger said.

Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2019 will take place from Thursday 27 June to Friday 28 June, at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Frankfurt, Germany. To register for this highly focused and solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email peter@trans-globalevents.com

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