Turning Back the Plastic Tide
Before the end of 2019 Svitzer Australia will adopt a Plastic Clean Up campaign as a core corporate social responsibility activity, along with a commitment to remove single-use plastic from their Australian operations. The campaign will address the build-up of plastic rubbish in the world’s oceans and the negative affect it is having on wildlife, marine communities and the recreational enjoyment of beaches, oceans and rivers.
The World Economic Forum has estimated that around 8 million metric tonnes of plastic waste enters the oceans from land each year, resulting in marine animals ingesting cigarette lighters and bottle tops and becoming tangled in plastic bags and six-pack holders. The WEF estimates that the world’s oceans have between 93,000 and 236,000 metric tons of plastic in them, including the insidious microplastic pieces which are so hard to identify and remove from the sea.
Svitzer’s move against plastic was initiated by a Svitzer marine engineer at Port of Albany, Adam Western. His background in surfing and sailing – as well as working at sea – gave him an insight into the plastic epidemic.
“Surfers are always picking up plastic rubbish from the beach and putting it in the bins, and I’m no different,” says Western, who as well as being a surfer also worked as an engineer on the tall ship, Leeuwin. “I have never really been an activist — I was aware of plastic, but mainly as a nuisance and eyesore.”
He says a year ago he was putting chicken pieces into a stir fry and he only used half the pack of chicken he’d bought from the supermarket.
“I covered the plastic pack over with glad wrap, and put it in the fridge and as I did that the thought came to me: in order for me to eat one meal, there’s now all this plastic in the environment, and it’s going to be there for years. That really got into my head because millions of people across the world are doing this every day.”
He started to take a rubbish bag with him to the beach when he went surfing, to pick up rubbish, and made a point of collecting plastic floaters when working at Port of Albany. As he became focused on ocean plastic, he started noticing the predominance of Mentos wrappers in and around the ocean. He particularly found them clogging up the beaches at Denmark, WA.
“I surf at Lights Beach and Back Beach, which are the west-facing beaches down here,” says Western. “I started to see these brightly-coloured wrappers in the sand and floating on the water.”
When he went surfing in Indonesia with his friends, the problem was even worse. “You could sit down on the tidal part of the beach and dig your fingers into the sand, and come up with these Mentos wrappers. I found it disgusting.” He started a petition on Change.org, asking the makers of Mentos lollies – Perfetti Van Melle – to stop using individual mini-wrappers. It wasn’t just the visual pollution that they created at his favourite beaches, but he discovered the small plastic pieces are ingested by marine animal, causing havoc in ocean ecosystems.
In order to demonstrate how bad these plastic pieces are for the environment and marine life, he arranged for his friend – a charter fishing boat operator – to see if he could use the Mentos wrappers as lures.
“He used a blue and yellow wrapper, twisted into a hook and lure, and he caught a flathead with it.”
They captured the fishing expedition on video and shared it, which got Channel 10’s The Project interested.
“The Project story generated so much interest. I was amazed at the attention and then I realised that I work at this large marine services company, and its parent company is the world’s biggest shipping company, Maersk.”
Two days after The Project aired their story, Adam emailed the managing director of Svitzer Australia, Nicolaj Noes, suggesting Svitzer lead the way in marine sustainability by eliminating all single-use plastic in its Australian operations.
“I thought that since we work on the ocean, we could do simple things like not buying anymore individual water bottles for the employees – we could buy large water dispensers and ask people to bring their own drink bottles.”
He also wanted the company to stop using Mentos.
“Nicolaj responded to me and he agreed that since the ocean is the company’s lifeblood, we should do what we could to keep it clean.”
Adam says the policy is starting at Svitzer’s Albany operation – where there are offices, workshops and two tugs – and the plastic policy will roll-out nation-wide when it is successful.
“We’re beginning with water dispensers, and we’ll go from there,” says Adam. “We’re starting small but already people are coming up with other ideas about how we can reduce plastic waste at Svitzer. We work on the ocean – we should take care of it.”
Nicolaj Noes says Adam Western’s idea is a practical and popular move with Svitzer employees, and the company is making 2019 it’s ground-zero year for addressing the scourge of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
Nicolaj says Adam’s initiative created a spark at Svitzer and the company is now committed to removing single-use plastic from its operations and encouraging better marine stewardship in its customers and partners.
“We have 25 ports and four terminals in Australia, with 1,000 employees,” says Nicolaj. “We set the standards for professionalism, safety and sustainability wherever we operate and I know everyone in this company is committed to making a difference.”
He says that Australia is so renowned for its marine beauty that any organisation that has an impact on the ocean in this part of the world should be investigating what they can do to reverse the tide of plastic.
“This is a great example of grass roots movement that resonates with many who work on the water every day,” says Nicolaj.
“Svitzer employees are proud of the Australian waters and they want to do what they can to keep them beautiful.”