Responding to national challenges
- Revolutionising packaging and waste systems: recycling, reusing, redesigning and eliminating plastic packaging through better design, materials and logistics.
- Behaviour change and incentives: generating value for plastics through fundamental changes in human behaviour.
- Waste innovation: applying circular economy principles to generate effective solutions for plastics recycling and reuse across the supply chain, including niche industry solutions, decision support systems, sustainable textiles, and developing value-added products and feedstock from waste plastics.
- Supporting best practice and standards: advising on the development and implementation of standards to support business, industry and the public in reusing and recycling plastics, including guidance of recycled plastic content to ensure food security and reduce waste.
- Information for decision making: applying analytical approaches, AI/ML capabilities and sensor technology to quantify predict hotspots, applying knowledge to inform policy decisions.
We are working with a range of partners including Chemistry Australia, Microsoft, New South Wales State Government, Ocean Protect, City of Hobart, Standards Australia, the Indonesian-Australian Plastics Innovation Lab and the SPath-Australia-India Plastic Waste reduction program.
- Data analytics – creating new data collection and sampling strategies, plus using advances in data analytics to process large amounts of data and establish baselines of plastic leakage.
- Machine learning - our artificial intelligence capabilities can be used to build large-scale sensor networks or conduct autonomous visual detection and analysis of plastic debris.
- Biological catalysts – we are working with enzymes that can be used to break down plastics and reduce environmental contamination.
- Waste to energy – our work considers how to use plastics at end of life as a feedstock for energy production.
- Behavioural science – we have researchers focused on social questions, like, how to incentivise better waste management or where to put technological solutions that also inspire community action.
- Environmental economics – we are studying the financial impacts of changes (or lack thereof) in the plastics supply chain.
- Materials science – we recognise the importance of plastic polymers and identifying recycling options and new bio-materials that could be less destructive to the environment.
Sources, distribution, and fate of marine debris
How much debris is there?
Within Australia, approximately three-quarters of the rubbish along the coast is plastic. Most is from Australian sources, not from overseas, with debris concentrated near urban centres. The density of plastic ranges from a few thousand pieces of plastic per square kilometre to more than 40,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre.
Impact on marine wildlife
Globally, approximately one third of marine turtles have likely ingested debris, and this has increased since plastic production began in the 1950s.
Around the world, nearly half of all seabird species are likely to ingest debris. Balloons are the marine debris item that has the highest chance of killing seabirds if eaten, and 43 per cent of short-tailed shearwaters have plastic in their gut.
We predict that plastics ingestion in seabirds may reach 95 per cent of all species by 2050. Recent research shows that it takes only one piece of plastic to kill a turtle.
Marine wildlife entanglement
Seabirds, turtles, whales, seals, dolphins, dugongs, fish, crabs and crocodiles and numerous other species are killed and maimed through entanglement.
We estimate that between 5,000 and 15,000 turtles have been killed in the Gulf of Carpentaria after becoming ensnared by derelict fishing nets, mostly originating from overseas.
Watch: How can we solve the ocean plastic crisis?
Our researchers are investigating the relationship between humans and our environment, with a focus on sources and amounts of plastics around Australia and the world.
We've worked with schools, communities, industry groups and government to address everyone's role in solving this problem.
We are the national catalyst to tackle plastic pollution. Our science and technology is supporting government and industry initiatives to eliminate litter and divert plastic waste into a resource to build Australia’s circular economy.