Over 10 tonnes of plastic has been collected and removed from North Coast beaches and trails, thanks to the help of volunteers and support from the communities throughout the North Island.
The massive garbage cleanup is an initiative of the Sointula based non-profit Living Oceans Society and their marine debris clean-up campaign called Clear the Coast.
The debris was trucked to the 7-Mile Landfill between Nov. 14-16, where it was sorted for recycling by volunteers.
“Every year we do cleanups on the West Coast of Vancouver Island,” said Karen Wristen, Executive Director of Living Oceans, who noted the 10 tonnes of debris was a typical amount for the group to collect. “I would have to say this year we would not have succeeded without all of the help we got from the North Island,” she added.
Wristen said on the North Coast Trail, “we just left empty bags out there and asked hikers, with signage, to pitch in and they did! We filled literally tonnes of bags and then we ran cleanups to do other beaches with our staff and volunteers.”
Clear the Coast and other Marine debris removal initiatives in B.C. were previously funded by a grant from the Government of Japan, which provided $1 million to Canada to deal with flotsam generated by the Tohoku tsunami.
That funding was exhausted in 2016, when all the groups working with grants from the fund collaborated to send 40 tonnes of debris from Vancouver Island shores to the mainland for recycling.
“This year we managed to scrape together a few grants here and there and put together a project on a shoestring,” said Wristen, noting that they wouldn’t have been able to collect as much as they did without help from local businesses and volunteers.
“Hikers on every beach we went to pitched in and helped when they saw what we were doing,” she said.
West Coast Helicopters airlifted the debris from the coast to logging roads for further transport and the B.C. Parks operator, 43K Wilderness Solutions, also provided support for the teams setting up collection stations and removing the debris.
Wristen said during the first few years they would collect a lot of Japanese tsunami debris, but this year most of the debris was broken down to the point where it wasn’t identifiable. She said they also collect a lot of debris that is from the fishing and the aquaculture industries, as well as consumer debris like plastic drinking bottles.
“The reason we are doing this is because plastic breaks down so quickly,” said Wristen, explaining, “Once it’s sitting on a beach in one of those big log piles, every tide that comes in crushes the plastic and as it sits out in the sun it becomes more brittle so it breaks down into very small pieces that can enter the food web more easily.”
The United Nations Environmental Program estimates that each year, more than eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans which impacts marine wildlife and fisheries.
“Marine plastics are like little sponges for poison, so when that builds up in the body of a marine mammal or a human mammal it can cause severe problems with the nervous system or brain damage,” said Wristen, adding, “it’s a big problem – we want to get it off the beaches while it’s still big enough to pick up because once it gets to be tiny little fragments, you could spend a lifetime trying to get that off the beach.”
Wristen said she hopes next year they will have government funding in place to support marine debris clean-ups.
“We’ve been talking with both the provincial governments and federal governments about establishing a policy for dealing with marine debris in Canada,” she said, adding, “We are pushing hard with everyone we can get to listen to us, and we are hopeful there will be a fund in place for next year to really plan the operation well in advance.”
Some of the marine plastic sorted at 7 Mile Landfill will be sent to a company called TerraCycle in New Jersey where it will be processed and used to make personal product bottles for Procter & Gamble.