MARINE engineer Adam Western’s mission to confront plastic in the world’s oceans began with an epiphany while putting chicken pieces into a stir fry.
As the meat sputtered and sizzled, it occurred to him the amount of waste involved.
“I covered the plastic pack over with glad wrap, and put it in the fridge and as I did that the thought came to me: ‘in order for me to eat one meal, there’s now all this plastic in the environment, and it’s going to be there for years’ Mr Western said. “That really got into my head because millions of people across the world are doing this every day.”
Mr Western has led the charge for his employer, Svitzer Australia, to adopt a plastic clean-up campaign as a core corporate social responsibility.
This campaign is set to take effect before the end of 2019, with a commitment to remove single-use plastic from its operations.
The campaign seeks to address the build-up of plastic rubbish in the world’s oceans and the negative affect it is having on wildlife, marine communities and the enjoyment of beaches, rivers and oceans.
Mr Western is based in Albany, WA and has a background in surfing and sailing, giving him special insight.
“Surfers are always picking up plastic rubbish from the beach and putting it in the bins, and I’m no different,” Mr Western said, who as well as being a surfer has also worked as an engineer on the tall ship, Leeuwin.
“I have never really been an activist — I was aware of plastic, but mainly as a nuisance and eyesore.”
Mr Western began taking a rubbish collection bag with him to the beach when surfing.
He started noticing the predominance of Mentos wrappers in and around the ocean, particularly clogging up the beaches at Denmark, WA.
“I surf at Lights Beach and Back Beach, which are the west-facing beaches down here,” Mr Western said. “I started to see these brightly-coloured wrappers in the sand and floating on the water.”
When he went surfing with friends in Indonesia, the problem was worse.
“You could sit down on the tidal part of the beach and dig your fingers into the sand, and come up with these Mentos wrappers. I found it disgusting.”
He began a petition on Change.org, asking the makers of Mentos lollies – Perfetti Van Melle – to stop using individual mini-wrappers.
It wasn’t just the visual pollution, but he found the small plastic pieces were ingested by marine animals, damaging ocean ecosystems.
In order to show how bad these plastic pieces were for the environment, he arranged for his friend, a charter fishing boat operator, to see if he could use Mentos wrappers as lures.
It worked – a flathead took the bait of a wrapper twisted into a hook and lure.
The fishing expedition was captured and shared on video, attracting the attention of Channel 10’s The Project.
“The Project story generated so much interest. I was amazed at the attention and then I realised that I work at this large marine services company, and its parent company is the world’s biggest shipping company, Maersk,” he said.
Two days after The Project story aired, Mr Western emailed the managing director of Svitzer Australia, Nicolaj Noes, suggesting Svitzer eliminate all single-use plastic in its Australian operations.
“I thought that since we work on the ocean, we could do simple things like not buying anymore individual water bottles for the employees – we could buy large water dispensers and ask people to bring their own drink bottles,” he said.
He also wanted the company to stop using Mentos.
“Nicolaj responded to me and he agreed that since the ocean is the company’s lifeblood, we should do what we could to keep it clean.”
Adam Western said the policy is starting at Svitzer’s Albany operation – where there are offices, workshops and two tugs – and the plastic policy will roll-out nation-wide when successful.
“We’re beginning with water dispensers, and we’ll go from there,” he said. “We’re starting small but already people are coming up with other ideas about how we can reduce plastic waste at Svitzer. We work on the ocean – we should take care of it.”
Nicolaj Noes said Adam Western’s idea was a practical and popular move with employees, and the company was making 2019 it’s “ground-zero” year for addressing plastic pollution.
Mr Noes said Adam Western’s initiative created a spark at Svitzer and the company was now committed to removing single-use plastic from its operations and encouraging better marine stewardship.
“We have 25 ports and four terminals in Australia, with 1,000 employees,” he said. “We set the standards for professionalism, safety and sustainability wherever we operate and I know everyone in this company is committed to making a difference.”
He said Australia was renowned for its marine beauty and any organisation should be investigating what it could do to reverse the plastic tide.
“This is a great example of grass roots movement that resonates with many who work on the water every day,” he said.
“Svitzer employees are proud of the Australian waters and they want to do what they can to keep them beautiful.”