British Columbia

Lasqueti Islanders collect record 2 tonnes of beach waste during annual Styrofoam Day

Organizers of the 4th Lasqueti Styrofoam Day say they've set a new record but not in a good way.

Locals call for a ban on Styrofoam which can take up to 500 years to biodegrade

The over two tonnes of garbage collected includes tires, crab traps, shoes, balls, plastic bottles and Styrofoam. (submitted by Dana Lepofsky)

Organizers of the 4th Lasqueti Styrofoam Day say they've set a new record but not in a good way.

This year's annual beach cleanup on the remote Gulf Island netted an estimated two tonnes of garbage, half a tonne more than last year.

There was the usual flotsam and jetsam: tires, fishing gear, shoes, balls and plastic bottles.

But mostly what they picked up was Styrofoam —  lots of Styrofoam — enough to fill two barges in fact.

"Styrofoam doesn't weigh a lot so you can imagine the volume," said organizer Peter Dietsch.

Styrofoam blocks litter a Lasqueti beach. (Submitted to CBC)

"We're finding relatively few of the consumer items that are dominating news headlines when it comes to marine pollution. There are plastic bottles, but when you put them next to the Styrofoam, the ratio is 3,000 to one."

Local action, global problem

Fifty Lasqueti residents took part in the July 23rd event which is described as "direct local action to combat a global problem."

For the first time the southern tip of nearby Texada Island was also part of the campaign.

Both islands sit in the Salish Sea northwest of Vancouver, and both have "drift collector beaches" that sit in the path of prevailing southeastern winds which push all the pollution ashore.

Fifty volunteers helped out in the 4th annual Lasqueti Styrofoam Day. (submitted by Dana Lepofsky)

In some places, volunteers report sinking knee deep in Styrofoam pellets and say the beach had a chemical smell because of the off-gassing from degrading Styrofoam.

Dietsch says the situation is even more alarming when you consider how Styrofoam — also known as polystyrene plastic — breaks down into ever smaller pieces.

'Ultimately, we eat it too'

"If you look at the impact on the marine environment, fish think it's food and they eat it. And then, ultimately, we eat it again, too," he said. 

According to Environment Washington, a Seattle-based advocacy group petitioning for a polystyrene ban, plastic particles have been found in 43 per cent of all marine mammal species, 44 per cent of all seabird species and 86 per cent of all sea turtle species.

In some places, volunteers found knee-deep accumulations of small Styrofoam pieces. (Submitted to CBC)

Beyond releasing harmful chemicals and blocking the digestive tracks of animals that ingest the particles, the toxins travel up the food chain into humans. 

Some polystyrenes take 500 years to biodegrade, while others never do.

Deitsch says most of the Styrofoam pieces found on Lasqueti started out as large encased Styrofoam blocks, used as lightweight and cheap flotation for docks and other marine devices. 

He says the time has come to ban the use of Styrofoam in oceans altogether. 

"The costs of using it is just too high," he said. "Even with the best intentions, one winter storm comes along and the stuff gets dislodged and then washes up on the beaches."

A large pile of beach garbage collected from Lasqueti and Texada Islands awaits transfer and sorting at the French Creek dock on Vancouver Island. A local feed company donated the collection bags and a trucking company donated transport. (Submitted to CBC)

Volunteers photographed and filmed the cleanup and resulting piles of Styrofoam in hopes of raising awareness. They also plan to contact politicians about the problem.

Deitsch and fellow islander David Eugster organized the first beach cleanup four years ago after becoming disgusted with the amount of pollution on the beaches.

He says the annual effort has made a dent in the problem, but the Styrofoam just keeps coming.

A boatload of Styrofoam and garbage gathered from Lasqueti Island beaches. (Submitted by Dana Lepofsky)

"The [cleanup] has become a community event and it's great and uplifting," said Deitsch. "The depressing part is all the Styrofoam that we collect."

In an unrelated development, the province launched an online opinion survey Thursday aimed at finding ways to reduce plastic pollution. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.