HERE’S ONE MAJOR WAY YOU CAN REDUCE MARINE PLASTIC

It’s only two years until the magnificent Auckland harbour is on show to the world during the America’s Cup. The Sustainable Business Network reckons we better get onto cleaning it up now.

On a clear day, it’s denim-blue and sparkling white with reflected sun. Under cloudy skies, it’s grey-green and mysterious. At any time of year, it’s home to dozens of species of fish and sea-birds, rays, common and bottle-nosed dolphins, orca and humpback, Bryde’s, southern blue, minke and sometimes fin, sei, southern right and even sperm whales.

The Hauraki Gulf, Tīkapa Moana, of which the Waitematā Harbour is the innermost part, is one of the richest marine ecologies in the world, with nearly a third of the world’s marine mammals visiting or living in it through the year. Over the last century, however, it has been significantly damaged by commercial fishing and pollution.

The desire to help reverse, reduce and prevent this damage is what led the Sustainable Business Network to launch the GulfX project in February, in partnership with the GIFT (Gulf Innovation Fund Together) Fund.

For the last 15 years, the Sustainable Business Network has been working with companies up and down the country to “energise businesses to help people and nature prosper”, in the words of  communications and campaigns manager Andy Kenworthy. While they originally operated as a networking organisation, over time they’ve come to focus on project work, particularly in three areas – researching and promoting the ‘circular economy’ and the ‘low-carbon economy’, and tackling water pollution issues.

The GulfX project is part of this third area. “Water pollution has been an issue in the public consciousness for a while, and a lot of it is associated with rural areas – which is a real problem – but there’s also a big problem in the urban area and we need to treat both with the same kind of urgency and importance,” says Andy.

For the Hauraki Gulf, that comes down to three things: sediment, plastics and heavy metals, mainly copper and zinc, which build up over time, don’t disperse and have toxic effects on marine life. In substantial part, these issues are caused by activities on land, although people don’t necessarily make the connection that what goes into the stormwater drains that line every street of the city flows out into the harbour.

“Most of us step over them daily without thinking about it,” says Phil Jones, project lead for the GulfX programme at the Sustainable Business Network. “It seems very strange in this day and age to have what’s effectively a big hole in the ground that anyone can chuck anything into, and it goes straight out to sea.”

One way to stop this is with litter traps, which are essentially nets fitted into the mouth of a stormwater drain.”They catch any bits of rubbish that are over about 5mm in size that go into the drain. Cigarette butts are typically the most frequently found, but there are also bottle seals, bottle caps – all those problematic little bits of plastic that often escape into the environment – and also bigger things like plastic bags.”

While some councils are installing litter traps on drains, it’s unclear how many there are out there, and it’s certainly not full coverage. The Sustainable Business Network sees a significant opportunity in getting businesses who own their sites, or who are influential tenants on sites, to commit to installing their own litter traps and clearing them every few months.

“Good examples would be malls, distribution centres, large warehouses, or any places where there is a lot of activity that involves moving goods where there’s likely to be more rubbish. One of the most problematic things is those little chunks of polystyrene from packaging that get into drains,” says Andy.

If you think your business, or the site it occupies, is a good candidate for installing litter traps, you can find out more by contacting the Sustainable Business Network right here. https://sustainable.org.nz/contact-sbn/