What’s the problem we’re working on?
Australia’s near Pacific neighbourhood, also called Oceania, covers 100 million km2 of the Pacific Ocean. That’s more than half the Pacific and almost a fifth of the world’s total ocean area. Dotted across this massive expanse are Pacific island countries and territories. A few are relatively large island nations like Australia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand but there are many small island nations, like Tuvalu, with only 26km2 of land. Other Pacific island countries, like Kiribati, are bigger (810km2) but are made up of many widely-separated islands – in Kiribati’s case spread over 3.5 million km2!
Just like in Australia, plastics including plastic bags, straws, bottles, takeaway food containers are in use every day. It is estimated that 310,000 tonnes of waste plastic is generated by Pacific island nations and territories each year, with much of it ending up in their coastal waterways and coastal waters – which then impacts on the health of the marine ecosystem and the health of inshore fisheries. Pacific island nations typically do not have the infrastructure to capture this waste, the population size to make recycling economical, nor the technical support to develop measures to reduce the use of plastics in the first place. More recently a number of Pacific island governments have announced their desire to reduce plastic waste, including Niue, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and others.
To combat the problem of litter in their ocean environment, the Pacific island nations, through the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), recently launched the Pacific Regional Action Plan - Marine Litter - 2018-2025 (Marine Litter Action Plan).
What is Australia doing?
Australia is investing $16 million over six years (2019-2025) in the Pacific Ocean Litter Project (POLP), which will help SPREP and Pacific island nations with the Marine Litter Action Plan. While the Plan covers all kinds of marine litter, POLP will have a focus on reducing the sources of single-use plastics (straws, PET bottles, polystyrene takeaway containers, and plastic bags) in the marine environment. The Project will focus on Reduce and Refuse approaches to waste management, rather than Recycle or Return approaches. Other projects in the Pacific region are already looking at how to support recycling and return of existing plastic and other waste.
POLP is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) through the Australian Aid Program and administered by the Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE).
In the long term, POLP aims to drive decreased marine litter within the coastal and ocean environments of Pacific island country Exclusive Economic Zones, by reducing the availability of single-use plastics (i.e. PET, plastic bags, Styrofoam and straws).
During the project POLP expects to help countries with
- Adoption of legislation or voluntary single-use plastic bans, levies and other instruments.
- Consumer awareness, support and motivation for reducing the use of single-use plastics.
- Plastic reduction measures targeted to sectors and businesses.
- Identification and support for sustainable alternative products and processes to aid a reduction in single-use plastics.
What will POLP do?
- The setting up of an implementation team within SPREP to deliver the Project.
- Skills training and capacity building for Pacific island countries through specialist technical support.
- Single-use plastic reduction initiatives within the region determined in collaboration with Pacific island countries.
The implementation team will be responsible for coordinating both a regional program and country-based initiatives as well as providing a focal point for other donors, partners, countries, and industry. The team will complement an existing waste program within SPREP, especially those elements that are linked to broader marine pollution.
POLP has been designed to enable other donors to invest and scale up the project geographically, by sector or by type of its waste so that Australia’s effort can be magnified to provide greater impact across the Pacific on the problem of marine litter,
For more information on the POLP contact POLP@environment.gov.au