Every year, eight million metric tonnes of plastic waste enters our oceans — the equivalent of one garbage truck dumping its contents into the ocean every minute.
Dan Dennison / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Plastic pollution is a global problem that affects us all. Plastic is so prevalent, we’re finding it in the water we drink, the food we eat, and the air we breathe.Every year, eight million metric tonnes of plastic waste enters our oceans — the equivalent of one garbage truck dumping its contents into the ocean every minute. As a result, the coastal waters around Vancouver have up to 25,000 plastic particles per cubic metre and garbage in the Pacific Ocean has accumulated into a floating mass three times the size of France.We are all part of this pollution problem, especially in Canada where we produce more garbage per capita than any other country on Earth. In fact, every year, Canadians throw away over three million tonnes of plastic waste, using up to 15 billion plastic bags every year and close to 57 million straws daily.In response, numerous governments around the world have taken steps to ban single-use plastics or introduce long-term plans to phase it out. Most recently, our federal government announced its own intention to ban single-use plastics as early as 2021.This is an encouraging step, but ocean pollution is a complex problem, with numerous players and no one silver bullet solution. Meaningful progress requires education, buy-in and action from a wide range of stakeholders. While government policies are an important piece of the puzzle, a broader effort — involving the public, private, and non-profit sectors — is needed to effect real change.At Sea Smart and Surfrider Foundation, two not-for-profits passionate about keeping our oceans clean, it is understood that without a personal connection to the environment, it’s difficult to feel inspired to save it. That’s why Sea Smart’s focus is on engaging and educating youth to love and respect our oceans by connecting them to the environment, while Surfrider Vancouver hosts its own cleanups and initiatives geared toward educating and engaging the public.Through Sea Smart’s summer camps, after school programs and school workshops, participants are challenged to think about current issues facing our oceans, get them brainstorming solutions and how they can make changes in their own lives — from avoiding single-use plastics to participating in beach cleanups with Surfrider. To date, Sea Smart has engaged almost 30,000 youth and currently, the three Surfrider chapters in B.C. (Vancouver, Pacific Rim and Vancouver Island) are working together to support M-151 which calls for a national strategy on plastics entering the ocean. Both organizations serve as strong advocates for the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans.However, our pollution problem will not be solved with policies and education alone — it also requires proactive environmental stewardship by organizations that operate in and around our waterways.Consider, for example, stormwater run-off, which accumulates debris, oils, and other toxins as it flows over rooftops, roads, and parking lots on its way into our drainage system. It’s an often overlooked yet critical issue that can have a detrimental impact on water quality. To address this challenge, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, which oversees the Port of Vancouver, has developed stormwater pollution prevention guidelines that outlines expectations around stormwater management for all port terminals.The local port authority also recently concluded a five-year, two-million-dollar program aimed at removing derelict boats and structures along the Fraser River, as these vessels can harm wildlife and water quality by leaching toxic chemicals such as fuel, oil, and paint.Initiatives like these not only highlight some of the great local work already being done to protect our oceans, but also demonstrate the positive change that is possible when there is alignment and collaboration among government, business, and community-based organizations.While the upcoming single-use plastics ban sets the right tone and policy framework, it won’t be enough if we do not continue to engage and educate the public about our oceans and if more businesses do not adopt a proactive approach to understanding and reducing their impact on the environment.Dr. Elaine Leung is a marine biologist and founder of Sea Smart, a Vancouver-based organization that delivers hands-on science-based educational programming to get youth excited about our oceans and empower them to be environmental champions.Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at email@example.com.CLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.