Cleaners solved the arduous task of cleaning up B.C. beaches flooded with plastic
On the beach, near the tree line, the world’s endless love for plastic is revealed with its ugly appearance.
On what was once a pristine beach on Vancouver Island, a large piece of Styrofoam was smashed to pieces by a storm on the west coast.
Ben Bolton reached out and picked up a large piece of foam, technically called polystyrene, widely used for insulation and packaging, apparently in this case for the buoyancy under the large wooden dock.
As a worker hired to clean up the beach, Bolton showed how easy it is to break loose plastic with your fingers.
“These things will be crushed by logs. All winter storm operations will only grind it into small pieces,” he said, holding a corn-sized nodule between his thumb and finger.
“Then we only have a small piece of this thing left. It may be like food to some organisms. It will eventually become a lot of birds,” he said, explaining how plastic is often found in the guts of dead seabirds.
Bolton is part of a project funded by British Columbia’s $7 million government coastal cleanup program. This is the most ambitious attempt to solve the problem so far-the goal is to collect debris along 1,200 kilometers of coastline.
The money comes from a special BC COVID-19 relief fund that aims to help the severely affected tourism industry by hiring workers and ships. (Other funds are used to clean up abandoned ships, which can also cause environmental hazards.)
No matter how far from the beach, the staff found large blue buckets, fishing buoys, plastic buckets, water bottles and other household and industrial supplies-trees from the water’s edge to the shore.
Peter Clarkson, a manager of the cleanup project, said that this year’s work is to solve problems in some very remote places, where “removal of rubbish is indeed a challenge.”
That’s because there is usually no road traffic, so the staff must enter by helicopter. In the rocks and the huge waves on the west coast, it is difficult to enter by boat. Therefore, from the Estevan Point lighthouse north of Tofino to the north coast near Prince Rupert, workers can spend up to 13 days in remote areas at a time.
They often have to treat it roughly, cook their own meals, camp at night, and then look for plastic during the day. Other crew members can enjoy the luxury of eating and sleeping at sea, taking a boat that is usually used by guests to visit the coast of British Columbia by paying thousands of dollars, but is now employed to remove rubbish.
The big foam that Bolton pointed out-according to his experienced eyes, he considered “quite fresh”-may have only been on the beach for a few months. But some of them have broken apart and mixed into the topsoil.
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“You can already see that with this degradation, it has become part of the ground,” Bolton said, as he dug the soil, revealing a mixture of green shore grass, black soil and white plastic foam.
“When you first appeared, you looked at this pristine habitat and didn’t see anything, and then you came back here and saw large bubbles, which would only damage the environment.”
Millions of tons of plastic enter the ocean
According to data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a staggering 7 million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans every year.
Once the plastic starts to decompose, it becomes more difficult to clean up. This is why people who work hard on the coast are targeting the largest debris. Plastic will never completely disappear, but it does break down into smaller and smaller pieces. Eventually, it becomes a so-called microplastic, invisible to the human eye.
A kind Recent research in the Pacific Tiny plastic fragments were found in each of hundreds of water samples covering thousands of square kilometers. All fish, squid and shrimp collected in the same study were also found to contain microplastics inside.In British Columbia, oysters used on dinner plates have been found to contain Microplastics in meat.
Most of the microplastics come from larger fragments that are decomposed, but they will also be flushed from the washing machine into the waterway. Every time a large number of synthetic garments are washed, the washing machine will release hundreds of thousands of particles. According to “Nature”.
Many people who work in the cleanup work in British Columbia, including Bolton, are usually employed by the marine tourism industry, so they have a first-hand understanding of the attractiveness of the coastline and have long been exposed to the growing interest that tourists see in the wilderness. Troubled travel by garbage dump.
However, taking plastic off the coast means overcoming a series of daunting problems.
On the beach about 100 kilometers north of Tofino, Vancouver Island’s most popular tourist destination, Jeff Ignace struggled with a mess of plastic nets, ropes, and other debris. Buried under the logs washed up on the beach.
“It might weigh 200 pounds there,” he said. He dug up with his hand and found a used plastic shotgun shell, plastic bag, Styrofoam and various hard plastics, which he called “shrapnel.”
But most of them are nets and ropes for the fishing industry.
“It will take a month to clean up this part and all the little things here,” he said, pointing to a bunch of things.
As a member of the natives of Hesquite, Ignace grew up on these beaches and witnessed the accumulation of plastic throughout his life. He said it was fatal and had seen whales, birds and fish entangled in plastic on the beach.
“They can’t fly, can’t swim, can’t eat,” he said. “They starved to death.”
Evidence of the longevity of plastics may come in surprising forms-such as using old hockey equipment.
When he found white things in a pile of things collected by the staff, project manager Peter Clarkson exclaimed: “Oh, this is good!” It was a plastic hockey shin guard, which he thought was decades ago Part of the cargo that fell from an ocean freighter.
“This was caused by a leak in the container – it was in 1994, near Beale Point,” he said, confident in the source of the plastic.
Clarkson, who retired after a long job at Parks Canada, is helping to manage the cleanup. For many years, he has been wandering on the beach, plagued by plastic shocks, but by turning fragments into sculptural works of art to convey information about pollution to his home, he found some relief.
All debris collected on the beach must be sorted, cleaned, and then bagged.Bolton, Ignace and other crew members worked long hours, struggling on smooth logs and sharp rocks, and piled the debris in bags called “super bags”.“
Next, the helicopter dived down, lifted the bags and carried them to the barge. From there, it was a port trip, where trucks were used to transport the bags to a recycling center on the mainland, where they were further sorted and processed.
During a recent visit, the new recycling center in Richmond, British Columbia was very lively. The trailer drove over, and the staff dragged the big bags into a pile. The forklift was whirring, moving nets, ropes, and barrels by tons.
“A lot of these materials are contaminated… so we set up this center to manage these materials so that we can make products from ocean plastics,” said Chloe Dubois, co-founder of the non-profit organization Ocean Legacy Foundation. Committed to all aspects of marine plastic pollution.
The whole process is very labor intensive and becomes more difficult because most materials degrade over time in the ocean. Some of them are being processed in recycling centers and made into pellets, which can then be used to make new plastic products.
“It is important that we start to really stimulate the recycling industry and the use of recycled content so that there is a market for these materials.”
Du Bois hopes that the growing public outcry over the widespread pollution problem will help force the industry to take more measures to prevent it — and clean up the existing mess.
“The impact of plastic pollution is indeed felt globally, so this puts pressure on companies to do something with the plastics of the products they are using and selling,” she said.
The British Columbia cleanup plan is expected to remove about 400 tons of plastic from the beach. This sounds impressive, but it only accounts for 0.00005% of the 7.2 million tons that enter the world’s oceans each year.
Watch | Clean up the plastic debris blocking the BC coastline:
Despite the continuous emergence of plastic waste on land, it is unclear whether the multimillion-dollar cleanup work in British Columbia will continue beyond this year.
“The scale of the problem is huge,” said George Hyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy in British Columbia. “We need to do more to address marine debris and its destructive effects on marine life and food sources.”
But Hyman will not comment on possible future financing.
Back on the beach, Jeff Ignace was clearly frustrated with the Sisyphic tasks he and others faced.
“There is a reason for the trash can.” He pointed to the sea. “That shouldn’t be a trash can.”