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Gleaning garbage from the sea nets new opportunities

By Lorraine Graves

Published 10:30 PDT, Fri July 30, 2021

Last Updated: 11:19 PDT, Fri July 30, 2021

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic travelled the globe to arrive in Richmond, so too do plastics cruise the world’s oceans, washing up on B.C.’s shores, killing wildlife, fouling propellers and entangling marine mammals.

On July 28 in Steveston—a tourist community hit hard by the pandemic—multiple organizations, communities and levels of government announced a collective win-win: many of those discarded plastics are now destined to find a renewed life.

The opening of Ocean Legacy Foundation’s plant on Steveston Harbour Authority land on Chatham Street at Sixth Avenue brought together community members and dignitaries.

At the plant, salvaged plastics become high value pellets that can be remelted into new products, much like making new candles out of melted wax stubs. 

George Heyman, B.C.’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, said the plant is key to “protecting our irreplaceable oceans.”

Federal parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Terry Beech said, “B.C. has 25,000 kilometres of coastline and some of the rarest marine species on the planet.”

The recycling facility works in tandem with Indigenous communities and organizations who collect and deliver discarded plastics to the new plant.

Not just empty water bottles and straws, plastics come in many forms. For instance, fishing nets, some of which float invisibly in the water, entangle and kill everything—from the tiny marine life that larger sea creatures depend on for food to mammoth whales.

More than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots and traps are dumped in the sea every year—the same weight as 55,000 double-decker buses.

With the longest coastline in the world, Canada finds much of this plastic debris washed up on its shores.

There are more than just environmental benefits to gleaning these lethal but valuable plastics from the seas.

Government funding allowed those struggling economically during the pandemic, such as Randy Burke of Blue Water Adventures, to pivot, using their boats, barges and nautical skills to clean coastal waters. The clean-up of 306 kilometres of shoreline has created 180 jobs.

Beech said that in tandem with cleaning up our coastal waters, Canada continues to work globally to reduce plastic pollution as quickly as possible.

He warned, “If we continue on as we have, there will be more plastic than biomass in the ocean within a generation.”

Chloé Dubois, executive director and co-founder of Ocean Legacy Foundation said, “We have to make plastic pollution obsolete.”

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