One garbage truck-load of rubbish enters the oceans every single minute.
In Australia, much of this rubbish starts its journey after being discarded from vehicles on roads and highways, and is eventually swept out to sea through stormwater tracts.
The problem is so severe that scientists now predict plastic will outnumber fish in the ocean by 2050.
Darren Squib is one Nambucca man determined to do something about the problem here, in his corner of the world, before it is too late.
Darren is the son of a lighthouse keeper and spent his formative years scrambling around the rocks at the Byron Bay lighthouse.
He said this upbringing sowed the seeds of his deep-rooted passion for the environment and for marine life.
Now a retiree, he devotes his time to tackling what he sees as the biggest problem our world is currently facing and spreading awareness of the issue.
Darren holds an official role as the officer in charge of marine debris collection for Sea Shepherd, Coffs Harbour, and organises bi-monthly beach clean-ups.
Through this role he sees firsthand the extent of the plastic pandemic and in 2012 decided to take his crusade ‘upstream’.
Since then he has conducted a one-man emu parade along the valley’s arterial roads, collecting a full trailer of rubbish two to three times per week.
“What we’re seeing now is that the plastic that enters the waterways is breaking down until it reaches the stage of microplastics,” Darren said.
“It’s being ingested by sealife and entering the food chain, which of course, is bad for the seafood industry.
“It’s having a cascading effect.”
He meticulously decants and recycles most of his gleanings which are often composed of 70 to 80 per cent plastic rubbish.
Darren is also prone to finding dirty nappies, trucker bombs (urine-filled soft drink bottles), thongs, p-plates, old shirts and underwear as he sifts through the roadside debris.
“You name it, I’ll find it,” Darren said.
Recently during a mere half hour period, he collected half a trailer-load of rubbish from the on-ramp to the Pacific Highway beside the new Nambucca Heads service centre.
“And this is the amount of rubbish before the centre even opens,” Darren said.
The centre is set to be launched within a fortnight according to company director Chris Page.
Darren is nervous about the influx of highway rubbish its opening will create, and is keen to impress upon locals and all levels of government the need to address the issue before it gets out of hand.
Darren said one option could be the Adopt A Road project taken up in other NSW local government areas that has had some real impact on stopping the flow of urban flotsam.
“At the moment it seems like passionate individuals are the only ones prepared to do anything about the problem,” Darren said.
In the past two years he has taken the issue to both the Nambucca and Bellingen shire councils, as well as to Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) but he said both have obfuscated responsibility over the nature strips that run beside the highways.
Council has said they are currently in negotiations with RMS to be transferred jurisdictional control over the presentation and maintenance of the old highway and new highway interchanges.
The results from those negotiations should be finalised within the next six months, council general manager Michael Coulter said.
But Darren also acknowledges that ultimately the onus of responsibility to respect and protect the local environment rests on the public.
“I never thought I’d leave Byron, but I was drawn here by the beauty of the place. The Mid North Coast is just spectacular,” Darren said.
“And we should all be looking after it and protecting it, not trashing it.”
In the meantime, Darren will persevere in going it solo to stem the plastic tide.