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The challenge

Tackling plastic pollution

It's no secret that our oceans and waterways are drowning in waste.

These photos of a waterway in Indonesia show the marine pollution problem can be improved ©  Kompas/ Wawan H Prabowo

To date, the best estimates say there are around 6-12 million metric tonnes of plastic going into the oceans each year – that works out to be around 15 shopping bags of plastic for each metre of global coastline (excluding Antarctica).

More than 690 marine animals are reported to be impacted by this litter, with seabirds and turtles arguably two of the groups of species most heavily affected.

It's not just wildlife either that's impacted. Where the waste and storm water infrastructure isn't advanced, rubbish (particularly plastic bags and other thin, film-like plastics) can choke gutters and drains, resulting in significant flooding events, damaging homes and harming local people.

Our response

The world’s largest plastic pollution project

We are working with partners around the world to collect on the ground data to look at exactly how much litter is in the environment and entering our oceans. This includes many countries listed as the world's top 20 polluters such as China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam and the United States. It also includes other countries such as Australia, Peru, South Africa, South Korea and Taiwan.

The best estimates to date of each countries impact on marine pollution (Credit: Jambeck et al. 2015)

Previously, researchers and policy makers have relied on marine debris estimates based on World Bank data to understand how much marine pollution exists. To provide a more robust and reliable estimate, we're using field sampling and mathematical modelling to document the distribution of plastic on land, on the coast, in the nearshore environment and in the ocean in major urban centres and surrounding areas that have been identified as having significant waste mismanagement losses into the marine environment.

This allows us to validate the recent global estimate of plastic losses into the world's oceans.

The results

Longer-term marine debris solutions

Our team specialises in looking at how people and the environment (water, wind, the shape of the land and storm water) moves our debris from land out into the ocean.

Most litter started off in someone’s hand, and from there it finds its way to the sea. This debris can break up into smaller pieces. By looking at how the litter makes its way into the ocean, we’re able to work with countries to implement cost effective, appropriate interventions and solutions that are underpinned by science.

The data is available to participating groups and countries, so they can report what’s happening at the local level and compare this to other countries around the world.

The project is a collaboration between CSIRO, the Oak Family Foundation, PM Angell Foundation and Schmidt Marine.

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