Disturbing vision for Australian beaches as plastic problem grows

Images created by AI software show how badly polluted Sydney Harbour and St Kilda Beach could be in 2050.

Australian beaches could soon be inundated with plastic, resembling the garbage-lined coastlines of Kuta, Bali.

Concern is growing that children will be building sand castles polluted with plastic shards, and hoards of turtles will be washing up dead on beaches.

Yahoo News Australia reached out to two environment experts to build a picture of what Australians can expect in the summer of 2050.

An image showing Sydney Harbour Bridge smothered in plastic. It was created using AI platform Midjourney.
An image created on AI platform Midjourney shows how Sydney Harbour could look in 2050 if Australia's plastic recycling programs continue to fail. Source: Rianti Bieler

Total Environment Centre (TEC) founder Jeff Angel forecasts “a tide of plastic will flood onto our beaches and waterways”.

Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) plastic expert Shane Cucow imagines there will also be less wildlife in our oceans. “We’re already seeing baby turtles washing up on Queensland beaches with stomachs full of plastic just weeks after they’ve hatched,” he said. “That’s going to become more of a regular occurrence in future.”

AI artist generates disturbing picture of Australian waters

Taking these grim warnings as a guide, AI artist and conservationist Rianti Bieler created a series of images that imagine how Sydney Harbour and Melbourne's St Kilda Beach could look in 2050.

Produced on the Midjourney platform, they show masses of waste swamping the shore, turning the iconic tourist spots into embarrassing eyesores.

The inspiration to create these visions was the announcement that Australia will not come close to meeting its 2025 plastic packaging recycling target.

  • In 2022, Australia recovered just 18 per cent of plastic packaging.

  • The nation's 2025 target is 70 per cent.

  • Australia is unlikely to recycle more than 46 per cent of its plastic by 2025

  • The government has invested $250 million in recycling.

“It’s an iconic part of the Australian experience to swim in our oceans and enjoy the beautiful diversity of wildlife, but as plastic takes its toll there’ll be less and less out there.”Shane Cucow

How do other countries compare?

Germany is leading the way when it comes to plastic management. In 2020, the country recycled over 100 per cent of its plastic — the achievement was reached because they took in waste from overseas.

  • 80.63 per cent of Germany’s recycled plastic was domestic, while the rest came from elsewhere.

More Yahoo content that looks into our future

How can Australia address its plastic packaging problem?

Conservation groups and industry agree that Australian packaging design and recycling both need to be improved to drive down waste.

An AI image created using Midjourney shows how St Kilda Beach covered in rubbish.
How St Kilda beach in Melbourne could look in 2050. The AI image was created using the platform Midjourney. Source: Rianti Bieler

Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation CEO Chris Foley said it was “disappointing” that the 2025 target will not be met despite “fantastic contributions from many businesses” to address the issue.

TEC’s Mr Angel said changes will only be achieved if the government sets mandatory recycling targets that are backed by industry funding and strong regulation.

AMCS agrees, and has called on the federal government to follow the lead of Europe and tax the use of virgin plastics, and penalise companies who create unrecyclable and unsustainable packaging.

The federal government is currently conducting an inquiry into plastic pollution in Australia’s oceans and waterways.

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.