Ocean plastic recycling center opens in Cumberland, collecting abandoned fishing gear and marine debris
Cleanup groups in coastal communities on eastern Vancouver Island are eagerly awaiting the opening of British Columbia’s newest ocean debris recycling depot.
The Cumberland site, operated by Comox Strathcona Waste Management (CSWM) in partnership with the Ocean Legacy Foundation, opened in mid-June to tackle tons of plastic washing up in the area, said Stephanie Valdal, coordinator of CSWM’s waste management services.
The site collects materials from shoreline cleanup efforts and legacy equipment from the commercial fishing and aquaculture industry, providing critical infrastructure to divert plastics from landfill and reduce ocean pollution, she said. .
A volunteer community cleanup group on Quadra Island, the Beach Clean Dream Team, christened the depot by collecting enough marine debris to fill a 40-meter shipping container, Valdal said.
“There are a lot of people specifically waiting for the depot to open so they can bring things in so they don’t end up in the landfill,” she said.
The site will collect lost or discarded fishing and aquaculture gear (such as nets, ropes and shell boxes) and marine debris such as plastic buoys and pieces of polystyrene (Styrofoam), typically used to make float docks and platforms.
The Cumberland deposit is the third of its kind on the British Columbia coast, said Chloe Dubois, executive director of the Ocean Legacy Foundation, with two others at Powell River on the Sunshine Coast and Ucluelet on the west coast of British Columbia. Vancouver Island.
The depots are located to manage plastic pollution hotspots on the West Coast, she said, adding that two more collection sites are in the works.
Debris collected from the depots is sent to Ocean Legacy’s processing center in Richmond, where it will then be sorted, cleaned and recycled, Dubois said.
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“Last year, we diverted about 500 tons from landfill,” she said, adding that Ocean Legacy also collects marine debris collected in Alaska and Washington state, as the infrastructure for dealing with ocean plastics is in its infancy.
“We are one of the largest industrial-scale projects collecting these types of materials,” she said.
The first and best way to divert plastics from the oceans is to reuse items, Dubois said.
Industry equipment in good condition and reusable, such as hard plastic shellfish trays, is offered to industry partners such as the BC Shellfish Growers Association.
“Our waste hierarchy prioritizes reuse because it consumes the least carbon,” she said.
“Then it moves on to processing and recycling.”
Once the marine debris arrives at the Lower Mainland facility, the foundation further sorts it and donates items it doesn’t process, such as beverage containers, to recycling partners.
But Ocean Legacy is at the forefront of turning some ocean plastics into pellets that can then be turned into durable and useful products such as kayaks or kayak paddles, Dubois said.
“We’ve developed a lot of our own technologies,” she said, noting that Ocean Legacy currently processes polypropylene and high- and low-density polyethylene and will expand into nylon processing next year.
“We focused on rope and polypropylene netting because there were no local options to process them,” Dubois said.
“We try to identify materials that are difficult to recycle and develop solutions for those materials.”
The foundation also works to educate people about the problem of plastics in the oceans, she said.
“The core of what we do is really based on our cleanups and education and embodies the principles of circularity that we believe will be key to a sustainable future,” Dubois said.
Some 11 million tonnes of plastic waste pour into the oceans every year – and this is expected to triple by 2040 if current production levels are not checked.
Canada recently implemented a phased ban on six single-use plastic items, including grocery bags, non-recyclable take-out containers, straws, stir sticks, and plastic yokes or rings from packs. of six cans of drink.
But recycling plastics is actually difficult, and 87% of Canada’s plastics end up in landfills.
The federal government has invested heavily in the fight against ocean plastic and ghost gear, Dubois said, noting that Ocean Legacy receives significant federal funding.
But policy changes such as mandating minimum recycled content for plastics manufacturing are helping develop a circular economy and slowing the pace of virgin plastic production, she said.
“It would inspire recyclers and people wanting to get into the industry to do that – to make those capital investments for the infrastructure that is so badly needed.”
Broadening and strengthening extended producer responsibility standards – where a manufacturer is responsible for reducing the environmental impact of their product throughout its lifecycle – is another way to deter single-use plastics. , Dubois said, citing B.C.’s beverage container deposit system as a fair solution. successful example.
Such steps and actions modeled by the foundation would help minimize waste and set a precedent for how plastic products are designed and consumed in the future, Dubois said.
“I like to say that we are creating pragmatic tools to support the circular plastic economy in Canada and beyond. »
Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / National Observer of Canada
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