British Columbia

Researchers gather to curb global plastic pollution crisis

Metro Vancouver hosts a public forum aimed at reducing global waste and plastic pollution, inviting researchers from across the world to share ideas and solutions.

Metro Vancouver hosts forum aimed at reducing waste, plastic pollution

Humans have created 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic, of which 6.3 billion tonnes has already become waste, according to a recent study by environmental researcher Roland Geyer. ( Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Humans have produced as much as 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic — and it doesn't always and up in the landfill. 

Studies suggest four to 12 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, leading many researches to refer to the pollution as an ecological crisis.

"After climate change, this is the biggest global problem to mankind," said Mats Linder, a project manager at the U.K.-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation. "The urgency cannot be understated."

Linder was one of dozens of researchers and stakeholders summoned to Metro Vancouver's annual Zero Waste Conference, which brings leaders from across the world to share ideas and discuss solutions to the global waste problem.

Linder's mission is simple, but daunting: eliminate plastic waste across the globe.

Achieving that goal might not happen for a long time — but he says the transition is happening now.

Millions of disposable cups end up in Vancouver landfills every week, according to the City of Vancouver. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

New Plastics Economy

Linder is part of the New Plastics Economy — an initiative that cultivates pioneer projects aimed at reducing the use of plastic.

Small-scale projects that the group has incubated include seaweed-based packaging for food that is completely compostable, as well as one-piece paper cups that eliminate the need for plastic lids.

The end goal is for these projects to be scaled up, and he says big industry stakeholders are beginning to take note.

He says the group has been working alongside six major corporations — including PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Company — that all vowed to transition to 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025.

"I'm quite optimistic about the role that the big companies are playing, they definitely need to play the role," said Linder. "They are, and they have to be, in the lead for the transformation."

A garbage can overflows at the corner of Robson and Hornby streets. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Vancouver moving forward

Several initiatives in Vancouver are underway that are also aimed at reducing plastics making their way into landfills and into the environment.

The Vancouver Aquarium-based Ocean Pollution Research Program is researching the impact of micro-plastics in the ocean. Metro Vancouver and Mountain Equipment Co-op are also involved in the collaboration, which launched in 2014.

The City of Vancouver has also jumped into the fray. Earlier this year, city council opened public consultations to reduce the amount of one-time use items including coffee cups, plastic bags, and foam containers.