Sustainable methods to detect, collect, transport and responsibly dispose of ghost nets and other plastic waste in northern Australia are outlined in a report prepared by TierraMar and the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at UNSW Sydney.
Commissioned by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), the report will directly inform the investment in new infrastructure and/or coordinated services under the Australian Government’s Ghost Nets Initiative.
“Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been lost at sea, abandoned or discarded when they have become damaged,” explains Founding Director of the UNSW SMaRT Centre, Professor Veena Sahajwalla. “Discarded fishing equipment can cause pollution such as microplastics and entangle marine wildlife and damage reefs, silently killing.”
The currents and conditions in the Arafura and Timor Seas and the Torres Strait mean that marine debris accumulates in the Gulf of Carpentaria off northern Australia, recognised as a global marine debris ‘hot spot’.
“It is imperative that we address the issue of marine waste in this region. Four of the six marine turtle species found in Australian waters are listed as threatened under Australian environmental legislation and they are regularly found entangled in derelict fishing nets,” Prof. Sahajwalla said.
The report jointly prepared by the UNSW SMaRT Centre and TierraMar provides guidance to inform investment in new infrastructure and coordinated services for northern Australia. The work was undertaken using a combination of desktop research, materials analysis, and stakeholder consultation with government, community, industry, and non-government organisation stakeholders.
“There is an opportunity to develop a range of high-quality homeware and building products made directly from ghost nets and marine debris coming out of northern Australia. The products, such as ceramic tiles, could creatively reflect the unique cultures, artistic values and connections to country by local communities,” said Prof. Sahajwalla.
“The homewares and building product could be produced using proven MICROfactorieTM ‘waste to product’ technologies for re-manufacturing.”
- For ghost nets and marine debris in northern Australia, self-sustaining solutions are critical.
- Reducing reliance on government support to clean-up and dispose of the debris is dependent upon being able to produce high quality products made from waste that reflect the unique cultures in the region.
- Consolidation of different waste streams within regions for more efficient transportation and processing will be important to achieve economies of scale.
- Re-manufacturing and to a lesser extent extrusion and injection moulding are considered the most feasible options for using the waste as a resource.
- Undertaking a pilot program to establish a recycling pathway for the Gulf of Carpentaria including establishing regional hubs for sorting and aggregation of marine debris and ghost nets and trialling cost effective logistical transportation and re-processing solutions.
To address the challenge of ghost nets, especially in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Australian Government is implementing the Ghost Net Initiative until June 2024.
A copy of the report can her found here.