British Columbia

40 tonnes of garbage pulled off Vancouver Island beaches

A barge loaded with roughly 40 tonnes of garbage pulled from Vancouver Island beaches arrived in Delta on Monday.

Volunteers are invited to help sort through the junk in Delta to see what can be recycled

This pile of debris was collected from just 250 metres of beach on the north side of Brooks Peninsula. (Rob O'Dea)

A barge loaded with roughly 40 tonnes of garbage pulled from Vancouver Island beaches arrived in Delta Monday night.

Now, volunteers have the Herculean task of sorting through the debris to figure out what can be recycled, what can be re-purposed and what will have to go straight into the dump.

The garbage was collected by hundreds of volunteers from eight groups this year, including the District of Ucluelet, the Nuuchahnulth Tribal Council, Parks Canada and the Surfrider Foundation. 

Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society, was in a group of 25 people who spent two weeks in August scouring the beaches along the west coast of northern Vancouver Island. Her organization also coordinated the helicopter and barge shipping effort.

"It's one thing to collect the debris on the beach — it's a wonderful thing to do — getting it down here was fraught, fraught with difficulty," she said. "It's just such an enormous relief to see it all down here and everybody safe and sound."

Wristen estimated the load of garbage adds up to about 800 cubic metres.

Living Oceans executive director Karen Wristen stands in front of the pile of garbage collected from Vancouver Island beaches by volunteers this year. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It's hugely expensive. What we did this year was to gather all of the debris that had been gathered by all of the groups working on Vancouver Island, and we picked that up by helicopter, dropped it on a barge and brought the barge down the west coast of Vancouver Island and in here to Delta," said Wristen, who figures it all cost about $200,000 — more than the group had budgeted.

Much of the funding came from the Japanese government after the 2011 tsunami, and Wristen guesses, about a third of the waste collected this year originated in Japan. The rest came from countries from all over the Pacific Rim.

Volunteers estimate that a third of the collected garbage came from Japan where a tsunami struck in 2011. The rest came from countries all around the Pacific Rim. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Living Oceans project manager Rob O'Dea took part in the two-week cleanup with Wristen. He was also responsible for coordination the logistics of getting the collected rubbish off the beaches and down to the Lower Mainland.

"[The effort] was rather huge. It had a lot of moving parts, the least of which was probably weather," he said in Delta on Tuesday. "It's hugely satisfying to look at this pile here today. It's worrisome that this is really just scratching the surface of what we're observing out there."

Once loaded by helicopter, the barge hauled the debris down the west coast of Vancouver Island and dropped it off in Delta. (Rob O'Dea)

While the 40 tonnes looks like a lot of plastic and debris removed from the ocean environment, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 1.4 billion pounds, or about 635,029 tonnes of trash finds its way into the ocean each year.

"It's quite important to get [it] off of our beaches and even more important to halt the flow of it coming out into the oceans in the beginning," said O'Dea.

One of the most common types of debris found on the Vancouver Island beaches were fishing floats or buoys. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"There's a number of issues with the material being out there. First, it's a hazard to navigation when it's in the water. Once it gets on the beach, it starts to incorporate itself in the food chain," he said.

O'Dea said the most common items by far were chunks of Styrofoam, fishing floats (or buoys) and plastic drink containers.

Living Oceans project manager Rob O'Dea carries a plastic 45 gallon drum to the giant heap of collected ocean garbage in Delta. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"There were some other items … that you knew came from the devastating tsunami in Japan," he said. "Those certainly gave us pause, as we're enjoying beaches and beautiful sunshine, to come across something that came from such a horrendous disaster."

Anyone interested in helping sort through the junk can take part this weekend, beginning Saturday at 11 a.m. PT.

Who knows, maybe you'll find something interesting to take home.

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker