The Hobart

Plastic Matters, With Dr. Q

by Qamar Schuyler
Plastic Matters, With Dr. Q

Have you ever heard of the Great Pacific Gyre, aka the Great Pacific garbage patch? These days, chances are you have. You may have also watched YouTube videos of turtles with plastic straws up their noses, or albatross carcasses laden with plastic.

When you go to the grocery store, you have to pay a small fee for a new bag if you forget your reusable one. In some states, though not yet Tasmania, you also have the opportunity to recoup those costs by returning your plastic Coke bottles for a deposit. Whether you realise it or not, all of these things are connected. And it is my job to make the connections.

I am a Research Scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), here in Hobart. I study plastic pollution; where it comes from, where it goes to, and what impacts it has. I ask questions like “Does the average income of a local population affect the amount of litter on the ground?” or “Is there more plastic in commercial areas than in parks or beaches?” I study how wind and water move plastic through our environment and ultimately to the sea. I evaluate the effectiveness of laws and regulations aimed at stopping plastic on its way to our oceans. And once that plastic has made it to the ocean, I look at how it affects wildlife like turtles and seabirds.

So what have we found? Well, you may have seen some of our recent work in the news. We reported that when turtles eat 14 pieces of plastic, they have a 50% risk of dying from that plastic. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that about half of all turtlesworldwide are estimated to have eaten debris!

Fortunately, the news is not all bad. By analysing data from Keep Australia Beautiful, we showed that container deposit laws (CDL), already enacted in five Australian states (SA, NT, NSW, ACT, QLD), and soon WA (2019), have a real environmental benefit. These regulations mean that a consumer receives 10 cents for every beverage container returned. That keeps cans and bottles out of the waste stream, and off our coasts. States with a CDL had a lot fewer beverage containers along their coastlines than states without such laws. So the good news is, although current estimates put the amount of plastic entering the world’s oceans annually at about 8 million tonnes (!), there are lots of promising solutions already being enacted.

Ultimately, plastic is not just a problem for wildlife, it’s a problem for all of us. 25% of the fish sold in a San Francisco fish market had plastic in their digestive systems. We know that chemicals in plastics can transfer into the tissues of animals that eat them, though it’s unknown whether this will ultimately result in harm to humans. Small amounts of water caught by discarded plastic bags provide breeding spaces for mosquitos, potentially carrying diseases such as Zika virus. Beaches and parks littered with debris cost communities through lost tourism revenue as well as increased cleaning expenses.

As dire as it sounds, there are specific, hands-on actions that each one of us can take, ranging from cutting back on single use plastics (e.g. straws, bags, coffee cups) to influencing manufacturers through our purchasing power. But most important of all, stay engaged and keep putting pressure on politicians to act in the best interests of our environment! ■

Love this

Cold Water Wake Up Call
It seems everywhere I turn someone is talking about or participating in cold water swimming right now.
A Short Geelong Getaway
Since the Spirit of Tasmania terminal moved from Melbourne to Geelong late last year, a visit to Geelong has been on the radar.
27 Hobart Friends Get Snipping For One Off Wine
The borders were declared shut in Tasmania on the 30th of March, 2020; the first stare to do so amid the COVID- 19 pandemic and hard lockdown of Hobart followed.
Danphe Nepalese and Indian Food + Peppermint Bay Bar and Bistro
Nepalese food is a comfort in our house. Having spent much time trekking and mountain climbing in Nepal as a younger man, Nepalese food is something I always love to go back to.
That’s DR Hannah Gadsby To You
From Smithton to Netflix and the Emmys stage, Tasmanian stand up comic Hannah Gadsby has forged an unlikely path. Following on from the massive success of her shows Nanette and Douglas, Hannah brings her new show Body of Work to Hobart this month.
PODCAST: Incat founder Robert Clifford on why electric boats are the future
Robert Clifford is the founder of Incat, a Hobart company building fast ferries for the world. Always looking to future opportunities, he has identified where Hobart sits in the next wave of transportation. For more of this interview listen to The Hobart Magazine podcast.
Is Tourism Ready For More Forestry Wars?
Tasmanian forests are special. They’re home to centuries-old trees, including the tallest flowering trees on the planet, and support unique native species. Yet not everyone agrees on how these forests should be managed.
Hobart Chefs: When The Obsession Becomes Real
Tasmania’s brand as a foodie haven is cemented. But within the local hospitality industry there are those who love to use local produce...and those who are next-level obsessed with it. We spoke to a bunch of Hobart chefs who are top of the game when it comes to fostering relationships with local farmers and growers.
Did You Know Australia’s First Female Doctor Was Hobartian?
Tasmania, despite its small size and population in comparison to the mainland, has produced more than its proportionally predicted percentage of significant figures and heroes of Australian history. 
Return Travellers Adding Pressure to Hobart Housing
For all of us 2020 was a year like no other, punctuated by rapid change and plenty of new challenges. For vulnerable people in Tasmania, including people facing homelessness, those on low incomes and those facing increasingly higher rents, it was very challenging. We are seeing a growing demand for homes in Tassie from international travellers returning home, people moving for work and others seeking the lifestyle that our Apple Isle has to offer.
AboutContributeAdvertiseNewsletter Sign UpContact
February 2024

Stay up to date with everything happening at the Hobart Magazine.

Thank you to Luke Brokensha for mobilising his friends and local residents recently to host two rubbish clean ups along the Hobart Rivulet after heavy rains.
The warm weather returns...hello summer.
Need a laugh? Check out @theinspiredunemployed feed on Instagram.
Moto Vecchia Cafe in Bellerive and Czegs Cafe in Richmond have joined the Clarence City Council dementia program, creating dementia-friendly spaces for all patrons.
It’s hard to believe it’s not standard practice to have a working phone in every aged care room - shared phones make private conversations impossible and increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Tacks on the tracks. Mountain bikers beware of tacks being left on certain tracks on the mountain.
Just when you think your cousins are alright. NZ Opposition Leader Judith Collins took aim at Tassie during her recent (unsuccessful) campaign, calling us Australia’s “poor cousin.” She also seems worried about us nabbing tech businesses, “It’s a lovely part of the world but do you necessarily want to go there with your high- tech business? Possibly not,” she said. We beg to differ!