Environmental groups and scientists across the country will call for immediate action on plastic bags, bottles and microplastics that make up the 34.9 billion pieces of visible plastic in Australian waters, when they front a senate inquiry into marine plastic pollution on Thursday.
The inquiry was called for by Tasmanian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson last year, when he declared Australia's oceans had turned into a "plastic soup".
The plastics in our seafood
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The plastics in our seafood
On a beach in Sydney's Botany Bay, Dave West from the Boomerang Alliance shows the small bits of plastic that get into our food chain.
"I'd like to see a fully co-ordinated national plan where the government shows leadership on investing in research and monitoring the collection of information, this was supposed to happen in 2009," he said.
"I'll be looking to how much funding we have committed to research. There's been a big global spike in studies done, but Australia has contributed almost nothing."
CSIRO, Total Environment Centre, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Clean Up Australia and local councils are among some of the groups that made submissions ahead of the inquiry.
Environmental groups project that with effective intervention, Australia's marine plastic pollution input could be reduced by more than 50 per cent within a three- to five-year window.
"Underpinning the community's frustration is the continued role of the Commonwealth, whose track record addressing our priority waste problems is littered with failure and a disturbing trend to misrepresent the scope of the problem."
The Boomerang Alliance, along with groups like the Total Environment Centre, will use Thursday's inquiry to call for a container deposit scheme, a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags and microbeads in laundry and cosmetic products, and continued enforcement of existing regulations.
The hope is that some of these initiatives are not far away.
Container deposit schemes are being actively investigated in Queensland and NSW, where Premier Mike Baird made an election promise to have a scheme in place by July 1, 2017.
Groups such as Clean Up Australia have long campaigned for plastic bags to be banned "forever," and in March last year hopes were buoyed when federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said he was prepared to use the "bully pulpit" of government to "get rid of" plastic bags.
Government sponsored studies have reported that between 8712 and 11,937 tonnes of litter enter Australia's marine environment each year, in addition to 6000 tonnes of waste related to fishing and other types of maritime activities.
However, the Boomerang Alliance said figures like this "badly underestimate" the problem.
"Conservatively, we can identify at least 56,000 tonnes of plastic entering our environment every year, [including] beverage litter, tyre dust, synthetic fibres, production waste, microbeads and plastic bags," Boomerang Alliance national policy director Dave West said.
Dr Jennifer Lavers is a research fellow at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, and one of the expert panel members who made a submission to Thursday's senate inquiry.
She said marine plastic pollution is now ubiquitous from the top to the bottom of the planet.
"We find plastic absolutely everywhere and in enormous quantities. That's largely due to the fact most of the plastic in the ocean is quite small, which means the scale of the problem is drastically underestimated."
Graphic: Conrad Walters. Source: NCEAS
With 30 per cent of marine fish in the world's oceans considered to have plastic in their stomachs, she said there is "no doubt we are eating residual plastic contamination," while other estimates suggest anyone consuming an average amount of seafood will ingest "about 11,000 plastic particles each year".
"We are definitely behind the eight-ball," said Dr Lavers, adding that "numerous other developed and developing countries are substantially further ahead".
She said container deposit schemes and bans on plastic bags and microbeads are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tackling marine pollution, but they are a starting point.
"My fear is we continue debating this for the next 20 years. We have to start somewhere, set goals and keep moving forward."