Mountain of net waste grows as fishing and recycling industries look for solutions
The tourism operator spends his days showing tourists the beauty of the islands south of Port Lincoln as they head out to dive with the ultimate ocean predator, great white sharks, or playful endangered Australian sea lions.
Mr Waller's workplace is dotted with isolated islands that have remained largely untouched since Matthew Flinders mapped the area in 1802.
But the isolation of this idyllic paradise has not been a barrier in protecting it from what Mr Waller labels as "the scourge of a century of progress — plastics".
Every day he sees pieces of rope, straws, plastic bottles and other rubbish but the ghost netting, found about a kilometre away from a sea lion breeding colony, highlights another problem.
He has just finished a month-long campaign to clean up beaches along the Port Lincoln coast and its islands but the netting and rope waste collected by the school groups taking part can only be stockpiled at this stage.
Inspiration needed to find use for waste
Once hauled out, the 30-to-50-metre section of netting ended up on what is known as 'Mount Net', a huge pile of netting offcuts, damaged nets, and ropes.
Mount Net is expanding annually at the Port Lincoln refuse centre, awaiting an economic and environmentally sound solution.
The Port Lincoln City Council began recording the amount of netting dumped at its refuse centre in 2009.
So far, it has amassed almost 1,500 tonnes of netting from the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries.
Council spokesperson Jade Scott said the industry and council were hopeful the stockpile could be recycled or repurposed.
"A number of operators with recycling proposals have approached all relevant stakeholders, but a business case that demonstrates commercial viability has not yet been developed," Ms Scott said.
"The nets and ropes are generally contaminated with sediment, chemicals, and metals."
Ms Scott said waste management contractor Veolia was seeking advice from European examples where the waste could be turned into nylon and used for clothes.
"There are also creative means to re-use the material that results in art installations or fencing or even installations in dog parks due to the material's hardy and UV-stable qualities," Ms Scott said.
"The fishing industry must also commit to their own investigations for a circular economy and not solely rely on publicly-funded investigations for a resolution."
Some of the netting was initially sent to China for recycling but there are now import restrictions on waste across much of Asia.
Mixed plastics problem
Aquaculture spokesperson Claire Webber said until now there was an issue with recycling nets because of the mixed plastics composition.
She said some companies recycled mixed plastics, however they encountered difficulty when the polyester content of nets exceeded 5 per cent.
"A solution has been identified that would recycle the nets and ropes, but the process requires material to be predominately polypropylene and/or nylon," Dr Webber said.
"Currently, the majority of nets being used are a polyester product.
"A transition in the seafood industry from polyester to polypropylene nets would see a long-term solution made possible.
"The converted material [could be] reshaped into a product that can be reused in the industry, including pallets and other consumables."
The tuna industry has an Adopt-a-Beach program to clean up debris that washes up along 150 kilometres of beaches in the Spencer Gulf.
Dr Webber said those involved in aquaculture worked in all weathers, including in storms and rough seas when ropes and netting could snap.
Entanglements every month
Mr Waller and his staff have started a campaign to clean-up beaches because, as he said: "You have to start somewhere".
"Some of the remote islands we operate on have never had anyone live on them so therefore, there'd be no rubbish but if you look closely, there's tonnes of rubbish there," he said.
"The volume of plastics in oceans is so large that it's going to be washing up on beaches for the next 200 years and we're going to have animals dying of plastic ingestion or entanglement for the next 200 years."
National Parks and Wildlife Services district ranger Peter Wilkins said there were 12 marine entanglements in the last 12 months on Eyre Peninsula, and not all entanglements were reported.
"Marine litter is widespread along our local coastline," Mr Wilkins said.
"Much of the coast on Eyre Peninsula is remote and difficult to access, making clean-up efforts in these areas more difficult."