Environmental groups are calling for a complete ban on the sale of polystyrene filling following a catastrophic incident at Pearl Beach on July 24.
The contents spilled from a split beanbag which had apparently been left on the kerbside for a Council pick up, with the wind carrying many hundreds of polystyrene balls to the beachfront and into the water.
As word spread, Central Coast Council officers joined volunteers from Seabird Rescue and Wildlife ARC and Member for Gosford Ms Liesl Tesch in a mammoth clean up effort.
Seabird Rescue Central Coast co-ordinator Ms Cathy Gilmore said it took a concerted effort by various organisations and individuals to collect as many of the balls as they could, with many others blowing out of reach.
“It was just about impossible for us to collect all of them,” Ms Gilmore said.
“They are so light and fluffy they blow into all sorts of crevices- no matter how many people came to help we were never going to get them all.
“People might not realise how catastrophic it is when these balls blow into the water.
“They are the perfect food size for our fish and seabirds to ingest.
“It was great to see how many community members came down to help.
“But there must have been many hundreds of the balls.
“It takes a great many to fill a beanbag.”
Ms Gilmore said the incident highlighted the dangers associated with the synthetic filling.
“There was a similar incident that same week in North Queensland on Magnetic Island,” she said.
“I think there should be a total ban on the sale of these polystyrene balls.
“But it is also a matter of individual responsibility.
“In this case, someone had obviously put out a beanbag for Council pickup which was split.
“If people are looking to dispose of beanbags they should make sure the entire bag is enclosed in a secondary bag so there are no splits.
“And please, do not empty polystyrene balls direct into your rubbish bins.
“As the trucks collect the bins, the balls will come flying out of them.”
Vanessa Heffernan, of Untrashy, which promotes alternatives to single-use plastics, seconded the call for a ban on polystyrene.
“We think it’s crazy they haven’t been banned,” Ms Heffernan said.
“But change shouldn’t rely only on things being banned.
“People need to be informed of the damage products like this can cause.
“They are too cheap and accessible and the dangers aren’t acknowledged.
“Our message would be, don’t buy beanbags and if you have one you want to dispose of, do it responsibly and carefully.
“At the moment there is nowhere for this polystyrene to go but landfill. It’s horrendous.”
Community Environment Network chair Ms Hale Adasal said the way to prevent similar incidents in the future was to concentrate on community education.
“We need to re-educate people on the effect our waste has on the natural environment – especially non bio-degradables like polystyrene,” Ms Adasal said.
“We need to be accountable for the environment we share with birds and marine life.
“Everything made from now should be able to decompose in the natural environment.
“It was wonderful to see so many groups involved in the cleanup for this incident but we need to think long-term about being sustainable into the future.”
Interviews (Terry Collins), 30 July 2019
Cathy Gilmore, Seabird Rescue Central Coast
Vanessa Heffernan, Untrashy
Hale Adasal, Community Environment Network
Photos: Michael Dahlstrom and Augusta Miller