Plastic waste—particularly from smoking– still dominates litter collected from B.C. coastlines, a recent study from the University of British Columbia has found.
UBC researchers analysed data from 1,226 voluntary cleanups organized by the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC), a conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF-Canada, along the coast of B.C. between 2013 and 2016.
“We found that generally 80 to 90 per cent of the litter that’s being collected is still plastic waste,” said Cassandra Konecny, co-author of the study and master’s student in the department of zoology and Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC. “We also found that while the amount of trash being collected didn’t vary much over time, the type of litter varied by region.”
The waste items were grouped into categories by source – smoking, recreation, fishing, dumping and hygiene products – and then sorted by region from the north coast of B.C. down to the southern Strait of Georgia. The most common litter items in B.C. include cigarettes and filters, foam pieces, plastic pieces and food wrappers and containers.
“In places like the southern Strait of Georgia which includes larger urban areas like Vancouver and Victoria, we see that cigarettes and cigarette filters – which are made of plastic – account for almost 50 per cent of litter recovered,” said co-author Vanessa Fladmark, a master’s student in the department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences and Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC. “On the north coast of B.C., in places like Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert, we see a lot more recreational items like large plastic bottles or plastic bags.”
Researchers say the findings could help guide waste management strategies across the province. “While volunteer-led conservation efforts like the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup are great at removing shoreline litter, more needs to be done to actually reduce the amount of litter that ends up in the water or on the coast,” said Konecny.