The first time Chloé Dubois saw a remote beach littered with plastics, she was struck by the grim reality of how big the problem had become.
It was 2012 and Dubois was participating in a shoreline cleanup along the coast of Alaska. Within five days, the dedicated group had picked up 18,000 kilograms (40,000 pounds) of plastic pollution. Dubois has also been active cleaning up British Columbia’s coastlines.
“It completely transformed my plastic usage and I knew I had to do something about it,” said Dubois, who is co-founder and executive director of the Ocean Legacy Foundation. “I think there’s a misconception that because we live in Canada, our coastlines are pristine. But depending on where you are, it can be incredibly polluted. It’s important to acknowledge the problem we have at home.”
The Ocean Legacy Foundation has been cleaning up Canada’s coastlines since 2014, collecting more than 70,000 kilograms (157,000 pounds) of marine debris during its first year. But Dubois admits it’s a never-ending task.
The foundation, along with dozens of other groups throughout southern B.C., continues to gather a colossal amount of debris, ranging from polystyrene, fishing gear, rope and beverage containers to tampon applicators, pens and shotgun shells. And it has found creative ways to repurpose the mountain of debris accumulating inside its Delta warehouse.
Hard plastics from fishing floats are given back to Harbour Chandler Ltd. for fishers to reuse and repurpose. Fishing ropes are given out for art projects, such as carpet building, potted plants and bracelet making. Water bottle materials are being tested for shoe production and tires are being recycled into new rubber products.
The foundation has also partnered with Lush Cosmetics North America, which uses the hard-mixed plastics collected from beaches to package some of its products. Other companies have also reached out to the foundation for sustainably sourced packaging.
“We are working on what we want these plastics to be used for, so it doesn’t create more single-use plastic products we are going to have to clean off the beach,” said Dubois, noting the foundation will soon be able to process and transform rope and netting materials into pellets for re-manufacturing. “We need to be coming at the problem from different angles. There’s a lot of different interests, perspectives and solutions, and they all need to be part of the puzzle to move forward.”
The Surfrider Foundation Pacific Rim Chapter has also found creative ways to turn coastal waste into consumer goods. Now in its second year, the Hold On To Your Butt campaign has recycled 500,000 cigarette butts from canisters placed along streets and beaches throughout Tofino and Ucluelet. The butts are sent to TerraCycle, which turns them into plastic lumber.
According to Lilly Woodbury, a Surfrider Foundation Canada representative, cigarette butt filters can take up to 25 years to decompose and are the most commonly littered item in the world. In September 2019, more than 4,000 cigarette butts were collected during a cleanup in Tofino.
“Recycling this material keeps it out of waters, public spaces and landfills,” said Woodbury, noting Surfrider also runs the Wetsuit Reincarnation Program, which recycles old wetsuits into yoga mats. “Mainstream wetsuits are made of neoprene, a petroleum-based material, which will never biodegrade.”
The Province is exploring ways to address marine debris, marine-sourced plastics and abandoned vessels. Sheila Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo and Parliamentary Secretary for Environment, visited coastal communities during the summer to learn about solutions and make recommendations for provincial action.
For more information about abandoned vessels, marine debris and marine-sourced plastics in B.C. and to keep up to date on the parliamentary secretary for environment’s work, visit: gov.bc.ca/MarineDebrisProtection
For more information about the Ocean Legacy Foundation, visit: https://oceanlegacy.ca/
For more information about the Surfrider Foundation, visit: https://www.surfrider.org/chapters/entry/pacific-rim