Marine plastic: local solutions for a global issue

Marine debris, especially plastic pollution – is everywhere, and unfortunately it is increasing.  Globally, an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the ocean every year. Many people think that Canada is not the problem, that ocean plastics come “from away.” But the fact is, Canadians produce an incredibly high rate of plastic waste for the size of our population, throwing away over 3 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. Only about 9% of our plastics are recycled.

Globally, approximately 80% of the plastic that ends up in our ocean comes from land-based sources.  Plastic pollution harms our ocean, marine life and ultimately human health.  Different sized plastics present different types of harm to the environment.   Larger plastics, known as macro-plastics, can kill or impair animals through entanglement and ingestion.  They also negatively impact tourism and pose a safety risk to vessels.  As plastics fragment into smaller and smaller pieces, known as micro-plastics, they are ingested by fish and invertebrates they can accumulate in the food web, with potentially negative consequences for human and animal health.

Despite our love of the ocean and images of windswept, rugged coastlines, Newfoundland and Labrador  is not immune to the problem of marine plastic pollution.  Our province has the greatest number of harbours (343) in all of Canada, and many communities rely on the ocean for our livelihoods. A recent study of plastic pollution in Newfoundland and Labrador found that plastics accounted for 85% of all marine shoreline waste, and of this, 37% was fishing gear. In fact, Newfoundland and Labrador may be a net exporter of plastic pollution, with our plastics being found off the western coast of Europe!

An estimated 1% of Canada’s plastic waste is released into the environment every year. In 2016, that represented a whopping 29,000 tonnes of plastic pollution – about the same as 300 blue whales!

Ensuring our ocean is clean, healthy, and plastic-free is everyone’s responsibility. At CHI, we are doing our part to clean up harbours in Newfoundland, but we need action from all sectors to turn the tide on plastic pollution.  From governments and global corporations, to local restaurants and small businesses, to us as individuals and the choices we make every day. We all need to do what we can to reduce our use of plastic and find better ways to recycle more of it.