A curious sea lion peers down from above, swimming below the ocean surface.

Global Recycling Day – for animals and the planet.

How you can shape a cleaner and kinder future for everyone.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated March 14, 2024

Keep cup? Check. Reusable shopping bag? Check. Remembering to politely decline the plastic straw with your plant-powered smoothie? Getting there… So, what’s next? March 18 is Global Recycling Day and it’s the perfect time to learn more about plastic waste, and other small changes we can make to lessen our impact on animals and the planet.

Thinking about the global plastic pollution problem can seem overwhelming. There is the Great Pacific garbage patch, a floating collection of plastic rubbish that is said to be larger than the state of New South Wales. There are countless rescue videos online of sea animals needing to be freed from constricting plastic litter. And there are frightening predictions by experts that we could have more plastic in the oceans than fish, by the year 2050 

The good news is that with simple changes to our behaviour, we can reduce our impact on the ocean and help sea animals – from whales and dolphins, to seabirds and sardines.  

This image contains content which some may find confronting

An inquisitive green sea turtle looks at the camera, floating below the surface in a coral reef.

Most rubbish we ‘throw away’ ends up buried in landfill or littered in wildlife habitat

Concerningly, an estimated 9% of all plastic is recycled. The rest is buried, tossed, or lost, and can end up in waterways and seas, threatening the lives of marine animals. A 2016 study found that nearly half of the species listed as ‘threatened’ on the IUCN red list had encountered plastics (a figure which could be much higher now given plastic use has only increased), including entanglement in plastic and the ingestion of it.  

When entangled in large plastics, animals can suffer distress, and death from suffocation, exhaustion, or predation by other sea animals. If microplastics are ingested, animals may suffer for prolonged periods of time before dying. 

Large plastic pollutants and microplastics (tiny pieces of larger plastics that have broken down) can come from gear used by the fishing industry, and from products used on land such as drink bottles, food wrappers, cutlery and bags.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A dead albatross lays in the sand, the contents of their stomach is visible, full of plastic litter.
Image credit: Chris Jordan, US Fish and Wildlife Service


Litter can be deadly for marine life, just like the albatross chick pictured who died with a stomach full of plastic.

Even better than recycling for our marine life, is reducing or eliminating the need to 

The most helpful thing we can do to spare marine life from the suffering caused by plastic is to reduce or eliminate it where possible. Be aware of industries that use a lot of plastic – and consume consciously. According to reports, ghost gear discarded by the fishing industry makes up the majority of large plastic littering the marine environment. 

Ghost gear is fishing equipment, such as lines and netting, which has been left in the sea – and it is a deadly threat to sea animals. With ‘non-target’ animals like turtles and seals snared in nets and tangled in lines being all too common, it is clear these thinking, feeling animals are paying the ultimate price for ‘seafood’. And if the demand for sea animal products continues to increase, it is also likely that volumes of fishing gear left in the ocean will, too.  

Fish who are targeted by the fishing industry are also capable of thinking, feeling, and suffering. Given the major welfare and environmental issues associated with farmed fish, the kindest option for all marine life is to choose ocean-inspired food that is animal-friendly 

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Sea Shepherd crew go through mounds of fishing industry gear pulled from the ocean.
Image credit: Sea Shepherd, The Guardian

Gear from the fishing industry makes up as much as 70% of the macroplastic (by weight) that is floating in the ocean, according to reports.

Another contributing factor to ocean plastic is that which comes from our culture of consuming and disposing at a fast pace. According to estimates, around 50% of all plastic produced is single-use – created to be used just once, and then thrown away.   

As many foods are packaged in plastics (plant-based or otherwise), it is important to ensure the packaging is recycled correctly, or opt for whole-foods with minimal to no processing or packaging. To see just how abundant and delicious animal-friendly cuisine can be, head to our selection of mouthwatering sea-inspired dishes here. 

Other simple ways we can limit the plastic in our lives include shopping at local markets and bulk food stores where you can bring your own bags, containers, and jars; keeping a reusable bag, coffee cup and cutlery in your bag or in your car; and opting for reusable decorations and environmentally friendly gifts and wrapping in times of celebration. There are plenty of eco-friendly items to choose from in the Animals Australia Shop.

The kindness takeaway pack

Black drink bottle with 'Be kind' and the AA logo, next to reusable coffee cup with 'Choose kindness' printed on the black band in the middle of the cup. Reusable bamboo cutlery set with straw and straw cleaner is sitting in the coffee cup and the carry pouch for the set is lying in front. Pouch says 'Eat kindly' and has the AA logo printed on it
Practical products that never go to waste.
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When unavoidable, the next best thing we can do for animals is to dispose of plastic properly

Waste that is not disposed of correctly can make its way to surrounding land and waterways – and end up in the habitats of Australian wildlife.  

Some state governments are addressing single-use plastic (for example, Victoria banned balloon releases in recent years). But legislative change is much too slow for the scale and rate plastic is being produced and disposed of, and so far, it is failing to comprehensively address the sources of plastic pollution endangering sea life such as fishing industry gear.

In our day-to-day lives, we can take it upon ourselves to always check labels to see which plastics can go in the recycling bin for curbside collection, return soft plastics to collection points in major supermarkets, and drop off e-waste and household items at local recycling centres. 

Joining a local litter collection group is another way to take action for animals. And if there isn’t one around, organising a group can do wonders for the animals and your local environment. Even without a team, making a difference can be as simple as going for a walk and taking a rubbish bag or bucket, and gloves and tongs for safety, and picking up litter on the path.

Every piece we remove from the path, sand or sea, is one less piece endangering our wildlife.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A humpback whale and calf gliding below the surface of the blue ocean.

Take positive action on Global Recycling Day, and every day beyond…

It might feel impossible trying to eliminate 100% of the plastic in daily modern life. But we can each play our part by learning about how the food and products we consume may harm others, and making an effort to seek alternatives wherever possible.  

There are numerous simple things we can do each day to leave a smaller footprint on Earth. If we all fill our plates with fish-friendly food, do our best to avoid single-use plastic packaging, and pick up rubbish that isn’t ours, we can shape a world that is cleaner and kinder for all. Even those in the big blue who we cannot see, who are counting on us to change our ways. 

Interested in learning more about living kindly? Join the evolution today and get your free guide.