Beached plastic: P.E.I. watershed group calls on industry to make changes
One P.E.I. aquaculture business is making changes to try to reduce plastic waste
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Sarah Wheatley knew there was a plastic problem on the shores of Tracadie Bay, P.E.I., but it was only when her watershed group did a summer-long beach cleanup that she realized how big the issue really is.
"In the first year, we collected two tonnes of material then in the second year we got one tonne," said Wheatley, co-ordinator for the Winter River-Tracadie Bay Watershed Association.
"So at least a tonne of debris is accumulating every year."
There was also a common theme to what she and the crews of volunteers were picking up.
"Most of the material that we pick up on our shoreline cleanups is aquaculture or fishing related," Wheatley said.
She said it's mostly foam buoys, along with "bits of rope, bits of net and then a small amount of food waste, chip bags, bottles, that type of thing. Ninety-nine per cent is plastic."
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Besides foam, Wheatley is most troubled by the amount of plastic rope on the beach.
"We'll get big chunks of rope but mostly we find these small bits of rope with knots in them," Wheatley said.
"They look like there was a knot in the rope or it got frayed off at the end and somebody just cut the very end piece off the rope and then just chucked it."
The watershed group received federal funding for the cleanup project but that ends this year.
Wheatley is worried about what happens after that.
"Probably the people that are responsible for the issue have the most to lose by it," Wheatley said. "I've seen reports of research where microplastics were being found in shellfish."
Foam buoy stockpiles
Wheatley has raised her concerns with the P.E.I. Aquaculture Alliance and her group has even suggested some kind of eco levy on any future purchases of foam buoys, to discourage their use and help pay for the cleanup.
"There are a few operators who are very helpful and they've helped with our shoreline cleanups and are trying to find solutions," Wheatley said.
"Some people have told me that mussel growers are only buying the hard plastic buoys now. But they have these massive stockpiles of old ... ones and no one seems to know what to do with them."
The aquaculture alliance said it has an environmental code of practice, which encourages its members to purchase materials with a long lifespan or which are reusable or recyclable and to minimize the release of waste materials into the marine environment.
The alliance says gear is expensive and is mainly lost due to wear and tear and extreme weather.
It says it also organizes its own Island-wide shoreline cleanup week.
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At Atlantic Shellfish Products in Morell, P.E.I., president Jacob Dockendorff is trying to steer his oyster company away from plastic.
He said they've made a shift from foam buoys "that were originally used in aquaculture and we're using the hard plastic buoys now."
He added there's new technology to replace the foam buoys which can break apart. "They create a pretty big mess to clean up. So with the plastic buoys now, when they fail they stay where they are, they just fill up with water."
Dockendorff says there are also ways to reduce the amount of plastic rope that ends up washed up on the beach.
"Earlier on we may not have had the education to realize that cutting the knots off the ropes and letting them fall into the water was going to become such a big issue," Dockendorff said.
"But now there's different procedures of how we tie out buoys to make it easier to untie the knots so that you don't need to use the knife as much."
Dockendorff takes part in local watershed cleanups and cleans the shoreline around his company's oyster leases.
"What we typically see there is mostly plastic waste and a lot of broken [foam] from over the years, you can tell it's aged," said Dockendorff.
"It's disheartening. Each year you go out and you think you're going to find less and less and we do. But it's still there and it's going to be there for a number of years yet."
Back to the past
Atlantic Shellfish has started using wooden boxes for shipping oysters, reverting to the way they used to be sold, as well as recyclable plastic containers.
"We do realize that plastic is plastic and it's not the most environmentally friendly option," Dockendorff said.
"But when used correctly and recycled correctly, it's still your better option for packaging."
The company used to use cardboard boxes, with a wax lining that meant they weren't compostable in some locations.
"The wood's very popular, the customers seem to enjoy it, it's kind of a throwback," Dockendorff said.
"Originally the majority of oysters were packaged in wooden packaging, as time went on it evolved into waxed cardboard. Now it's trending towards more plastic and wood again."
Dockendorff hopes the aquaculture industry will continue to look for ways to be more sustainable.
"If you know you can make some small change to make things, then it's a no-brainer for us at that point," Dockendorff said.
"Sometimes it is more expensive but when you factor it all together with the environmental issues, it really makes very little difference. Ten cents here, ten cents there.Then I go home and I see my kids and I think what am I leaving behind?"
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