Our planet has an overwhelming waste problem on land and at sea. This is caused by the ‘overconsume then discard’ regime of convenience products, like plastic package wrapping and single-use disposables. By now we’ve all heard or seen visuals about marine debris and the damages it causes to our ecosystems and marine life. The Prairie Provinces are hundreds of miles from the coasts. That should mean our waste is “securely” landlocked and cannot contribute to this problem – Right? Not quite.
The answer is ‘potentially’, and directly depends on how the waste is discarded and what type of material the product is made out of. For ease, we will be focusing on plastics. It is estimated that 80% of the plastics in the ocean originates from land-based activities. So what can you do to help reduce the chance your waste will accidentally ending up finding its way to the ocean?
Step One: Prevention!
Careless and improper waste disposal is a contributor – illegal dumping immensely adds to the waste surplus in our seas. The first step in battling ocean debris is to try and prevent them from getting there in the first place. Our waste and recyclables can also be easily blown from truck boxes or escape from carts with lids open. Birds or high winds can take loose material to rivers, sewer systems, or directly into the ocean. The opportunities are endless because all waterways are connected to the ocean. So, never-ever litter regardless of its size; couch, chip bag, or cigarette butt!
Step Two: Follow the 5 R’s!
Refuse, reduce, reuse, rot, then recycle before considering to discard your waste. These steps are put into place to try and cut down on our consumption. However, we can easily refuse or reduce the number of products we purchase that cannot be reused, composted, or recycled that have been proven to be a part of this issue. For some problematic products, the government has already taken action. Luckily in Canada, a regulation was passed in June of 2017 banning the manufacture, import, and sale of toiletries, non-prescription drugs, and natural health products that contain microplastics smaller than 5mm. Plastics of these dimensions were proven to pass through water treatment facilities unscathed. Just to be safe try avoiding these products if you see the following ingredients listed: polyethylene, polypropylene, or polymethyl methacrylate.
Unfortunately, the list does not stop there and ocean waste can also be derived from synthetic clothing too. When washed, this fabric releases small plastic fibres down the drain. They are too small to be filtered out by wastewater facilities and end up being consumed by small marine species, eventually even ending up in our food chain. Overall, purchase wisely or finding alternatives like real wool or cotton because once you buy the product you become liable for responsibly disposing of it.
The bottom line is, regardless of where you are located, marine debris is a worldwide issue. We all have the power to make a difference. Impact starts with small steps and together we can “sea” a difference by creating a big wave of change!