Several weeks ago I participated in Sustainable Coastline’s North Shore Clean-up, helping to pick up rubbish off North Shore beaches. This was my second year doing the clean-up, and both times it has really highlighted for me the trouble with all the disposable packaging we use, as well as our careless attitudes towards littering in city streets.
Last year the majority of the rubbish I picked up was foam polystyrene and nylon fishing line, whereas this year the biggest offenders were cigarette butts and plastic drink bottle lids. I also found an odd assortment of other items, including drinking straws, tiles, discarded tennis balls, fireworks, and corroding aluminium cans.
Luckily, my friends and I did not come across anything as grisly as the dead seabird with a stomach full of junk that was found by school students on the Coromandel Coastal Clean-up. Some of the other less palatable items found on the North Shore Clean-up included syringes and disposable diapers.
It’s frustrating to know that much of this rubbish reaches our beaches via stormwater pipes. And, of course, it doesn’t just sunbathe once it’s at the beach – I’m sure you will have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which was formed by the gradual accumulation of plastic debris from coasts around the North Pacific. This plastic can release toxic chemicals as it degrades, while marine animals that ingest pieces of plastic often die as a result.
Keeping this rubbish off our coast and out of the ocean should be as simple as not littering, whether we’re at the beach or on our city and suburban streets, and perhaps we should be doing Street Clean-ups as well as Beach Clean-ups to mitigate the flow. But even better would be to stop the waste at the source. From disposable water bottles and plastic-wrapped vegetables to parking tickets and styrofoam takeaway containers, modern life contains a ridiculous amount of packaging and single-use plastic items. It’s bad enough that these objects end up wasting space in landfill; much worse when they end up in our waterways and on our coasts. Surely the best way to protect our coastal and marine environments is to purge unnecessary packaging and disposable items from our daily lives — Is that too much to ask?