Push for ban after beaches covered in 'potentially deadly' plastic balls

·Environment Editor

There are calls for a ban of more single use plastic products after two pristine Australian shorelines were polluted by millions of polystyrene beans this week.

On Thursday frustrated locals on North Queensland’s Magnetic Island were busy vacuuming thousands of the small white balls, trying to curtail their spread before they kill seabirds and fish.

The spill comes just days after a Yahoo News Australia broke the news of a broken bean bag threatening to harm bird and marine life at Pearl Beach, 90km north of Sydney.

Polystyrene balls floating in an estuary, a hand holding polystyrene balls and dirt
Thousands of polystyrene beans litter Pearl Beach. Source: Supplied, Augusta Miller

State Labor MP Liesl Tesch told Yahoo News Australia she supported extending a single use plastics ban beyond shopping bags.

“After seeing what’s happened with the bean bags in Pearl Beach and the devastation on Magnetic Island it’s time we considered banning other single use plastics,” she said.

Australian Microplastic Assessment Project director Dr Michelle Blewitt said she supports the idea, saying she would like to see the “horrific” balls banned.

“Because of the repercussions of the impact on these polystyrene balls on the environment, I think we should put it out there that there should be a ban.”

Dr Blewitt is calling on stores like Kmart and Spotlight who stock the product to withdraw them from sale.

“If they’re taking single use straws and plastic cutlery from the shops then why can’t they remove them,” she said.

A screenshot shows Kmart advertisement sells a Bag of Beans for $12.
Stores including Kmart sell bags of beans. Source: Kmart

Minister urges residents to contact authorities

A spokesperson for the Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley urged anyone with information about the spill at Magnetic Island to report it to authorities.

“Pollution and littering in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area can impact marine animals and other parts of the environment,” the spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.

“It is an offence and all reports are taken seriously.

"Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service are working with Townsville City Council and the local community in cleaning up the affected beaches.”

Bean bag ball clean-up could take weeks

Over at Pearl Beach, Labor MP Liesl Tesch joined volunteers from Australian Seabird Rescue, Wildlife Arc and Untrashy today to help clean up the area.

Thirteen garbage bags have been filled, but with thousands of balls hidden under dirt and leaf litter, it’s a job that could still take weeks to complete.

Six volunteers hold bags filled with polystyrene beans.
Central Coast residents clean up after bean bag spill. Source: Yahoo News Australia

Seabird Rescue Central Coast spokesperson Larissa Johnston said that marine life and birds mistake the polystyrene balls for food, so each one is a potential killer.

“It can mimic the look of prey and cause blockages, infection, and choking,” she said.

Photo shows several black plastic garbage bags containing the rubbish collected on the beach.
Garbage bags filled with bean bag balls, and contaminated leaf litter, and dirt. Source: Untrashy

‘There are alternatives out there’

Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation CEO Brooke Donnelly said that the polystyrene balls are commonly used to protect consumer goods such as electronics.

APCO estimates Australian consumption of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is 71,000 tonnes, and growing at a rate of five per cent per annum.

A recent report found the growing demand of EPS foam in Australia is associated with food chain quality and safety, high value building products and overseas demand for Australian fresh food stuffs.

Ms Donnelly said the balls do have a purpose, but a discussion about alternatives is worth having.

“I think it’s really important that people do explore those alternatives,” she said.

“Think about how much worse it would have been if it had have been a higher volume of material, like a truck load.”

Spotlight and Kmart have been contacted by Yahoo News Australia for comment.

People with information about the Magnetic Island spill can contact the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s 24-hour hotline 1800 380 048 or via www.gbrmpa.gov.au.

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