Complete ban on single-use plastics will heal Australia's Great Barrier Reef

To help bring life back into Australia's Great Barrier Reef and the broader environment, Queensland leaders are considering a complete ban on single use plastics.

To help bring life back into Australia's Great Barrier Reef and the broader environment, leaders in the local State of Queensland are considering a complete ban on single use plastics, which they say will be a first for the country in terms of the scope.

Minister for Environment and Great Barrier Reef Leeanne Enoch released the Plastic Pollution Reduction Plan on Thursday, which will involve banning plastic straws, cutlery, plates and stirrers in one of the terms.

"This plan is an Australian first in its scope and structure, and takes a holistic approach to the complex nature and impacts of plastic throughout its supply chain," Enoch said.

Single use plastics, due to their vast scale of use, end up in the marine environment in large amounts either indirectly from landfill, or from people dumping their waste directly into the ocean and waterways.

Plastic in the form of bags or bottles can pose a serious threat to larger marine life such as birds, turtles and whales, endangering the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem when it become microplastics.

Senior lecturer at James Cook University in Queensland, Dr Lynne Van Herwerden explained that when plastics enter Australia's waters they are broken down at an advanced rate by the sun's UV rays, becoming tiny plastic fragments known as microplastics.

"We now know that animals on the Great Barrier Reef from corals to sponges to sea cucumbers feeding off the bottom, and of course fish. When we look inside them we're finding plastics," Van Herwerden said.

In a recent study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, coral trout which were caught from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and live exported to Asia, were found to have microplastics inside them.

Van Herwerden said these plastics are even finding their way back to us, with studies beginning to show the presence of microplastics in our own digestive systems.

"We're not purposely eating it, but it's entering our bodies, probably through the food that we eat," she said.

Van Herwerden said that while the plastic which already exists in the environment will continue to breakdown and turn into microplastics, the best thing that we can do is to stop polluting now.

"If we ban it now we'll stop it continuing to increase exponentially, because we're more and more people, and if we all keep using single-use plastics the way we have been, we're just going to keep increasing the amount of that stuff that's out there."

Enoch said the Plastic Pollution Reduction Plan also increases the uptake of recycled plastic materials in new products and invested in plastic recovery and reprocessing.

"We want a bright future for Queensland, and tackling plastic will help ensure we leave this state a better place for our future generations," she said.  

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