• Mertens water monitor (Varanus mertensi), feeds on fish, frogs and small and is rarely seen far from water. Normanton wetlands. (Universal Images Group Editorial)Source: Universal Images Group Editorial
A new program to reduce marine pollution in Queensland's Gulf country will train 20 Indigenous rangers and 30 community volunteers to recover and 'upcycle' plastic waste into ropes, fishing line and more.
Rae Johnston

25 Aug 2020 - 10:24 AM  UPDATED 25 Aug 2020 - 10:28 AM

Dugongs, sea turtles, thousands of birds and immeasurable mangroves call the salt marsh wetlands of the Lower Gulf of Carpentaria home. It is also a seasonal tourist hotspot, at risk of threat from rubbish and pollution - but recycling services in the area are virtually non-existent. 

"Most people have got to truck out all the rubbish, and some lazy people cut corners. That doesn't always happen," Murrandoo Yanner, Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation Director and Traditional Owner, told NITV News.

"So here we're going to deal with it on the spot."

How exactly they are going to deal with it, is with a $600,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation to fund a three-year marine pollution and wetland management program, in partnership with Earthwatch Australia, CLCAC and recycling experts Plastic Collective. 

"It's three years. It's a bit more than a rubbish tokenistic thing. They've put some thought into it," said Mr Yanner.

"This has been going back and forth a few months between the partners and us. And I think we're coming to a real workable solution that will make real impacts on the ground now.

"Most of us involved in the Gulf, we have never been about gammin things. It's either real, or we aren't interested. We've got like-minded partners, and everyone's putting some genuine energy into it." 

The 'Wetlands not Wastelands' project will cover country from the Northern Territory border in the west, to the Staaten River on Cape York in the east. Not all the waste is generated locally, and already, the community can get information about which areas of the world are contributing to plastic waste in the wetlands. 

"The Gulf's not very polluted compared to other places at the moment, but it's just starting to become a problem here," Mr Yanner said.

"We want to nip it in the bud before it becomes a more terminal sort of tumour."

Twenty Indigenous Land and Environment Rangers, and 30 community volunteers will be trained as a part of the program to recover and 'upcycle' plastic waste into valuable products, creating a business opportunity for the community.

"The program will help us with our educational programs through the schools, training of community volunteers and all of our rangers in the different plastics. Their sources, how to identify them, compiling the data, and then how to recycle them and turn it, perhaps, into a business opportunity," said Mr Yanner.

Plastic Collective Shruders, or plastic recycling machines, will be placed into the Burketown and Normanton communities. Designed and manufactured in Coffs Harbour, a Shruder is two machines in one - a shredder, and extruder. The device is designed to be portable and fits in a standard trailer, weighing only 100kg. It can also be powered by solar energy. 

"They're sort of the size of a shipping freight container," said Mr Yanner. "You throw all your plastic bottles in one end straight off the beach - just take your paper off - and you end up with little ingots."

The Shruder can shred five kilos and extrude 120 metres of plastic per hour. The Rangers will be trained on how to use the Shruders, and turn plastic waste into funds for the community. 

"Just like your carbon credits, some companies will buy [the ingots as] plastic credits," said Mr Yanner. "Where they are doing their limit environmentally, we're cleaning up the environment. They'll be able to purchase some of those ingots as the plastic credits."

The ingots can also be recycled and turned into rope, fishing line, cups, plates - items that community members can sell as goods. 

"You're not disposing of it, not burying the rubbish, or burning it like most of us silly Aussies do at the moment," said Mr Yanner.

"This is not only cleaning it up, putting it in a manageable form and claiming credit from that, but then recycling it in front of you within minutes into usable products that have a long lifetime - because the problem with this plastic is obviously that it can last your whole life."

Mr Yanner's enthusiasm and passion for his Country and the project is evident. 

"I'm just very excited to look after Country, keep it pristine. This adds a bit more to our arsenal, our competency and capabilities. As well as fitting in, obviously, with our traditional obligations of caring for Country and environment. So that's a perfect fit."

When the three-year program is over, Mr Yanner hopes it inspires and motivates other communities who might be facing similar issues with increasing pollution. 

"I hope we make it a success. I have no doubt we will," said Mr Yanner. "And also at the end of it, there's a great economic opportunity for a segment of the community to run it once we've perfected it and shown it can work."

For other communities looking for a similar solution to pollution, Mr Yanner said he's more than happy to offer guidance. 

"Get in touch with us, said Mr Yanner. "You're welcome. Anyone's welcome to the lower Gulf here, ring us up."

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