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Takeaway food rubbish dominates plastic pollution in oceans, new study finds

New Zealand lacks “robust” legislation to protect people from toxins that leach from plastics, a researcher warns, as new research reveals the scale of the world’s plastic pollution problem. 

Plastic rubbish on beach (file picture). Source: istock.com

In one of the most comprehensive studies to date, an article published yesterday in the journal Nature Sustainability found nearly half of human-made waste in the ocean consisted of plastic rubbish from takeaways, mainly plastic bags, wrappers, containers, cutlery and cans. 

The study, funded by the BBVA Foundation and Spanish science ministry, examined 12 million data points from 36 databases internationally. 

Environmental anthropologist, political ecologist and activist Dr Trisia Farrelly, from Massey University, told Breakfast New Zealand was using a similar amount of plastic as other OECD countries. 

But, at the moment, the country lacked a “safe, circular economy for plastics”, she said. 

“We don't have robust policy frameworks and legislation to ensure that we’re protecting our society.”

Farrelly said one example was that there weren’t laws stopping the inclusion of toxic additives in plastics in New Zealand. 

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Massey University’s Trisia Farrelly says the country lacks “robust” legislation to stop toxins from plastics leaching into the environment. Source: Breakfast

“Seventy-nine per cent of all of those plastics produced are now accumulating in a landfill or they've leached into the environment,” she said.

“And we're talking about not just the marine environment which is the ultimate sink for plastic pollution, but also it's in the air that we breathe.”

She said these toxins could have negative impacts on people genetically, over numerous generations. 

Plastics also contributed to the emissions of greenhouse gases - from when they’re produced and throughout their lifetime, she said.

“They stick around pretty much forever.”

Farrelly, who is part of a task force advising the UN as it writes a legally-binding treaty on marine plastic pollution, called on New Zealand to support the proposal. 

She said more than 130 countries had indicated they would support the treaty, including Australia, Canada and Pacific Island nations. New Zealand hadn’t yet said whether it would back the agreement.

“We’re exposing ourselves here,” Farrelly said.