Earth Week reminder: What can individuals do?

It’s been three years since a devastating tsunami hit Japan and washed 1.5 million tonnes of debris into the ocean.

Here on the West Coast, we are faced with the task of cleaning it all up, but what are we actually doing about it? I would like to thank the group of Japanese students who recently raised funds in order to visit Ucluelet to assist us with this problem. In three days, about 70 kids removed seven tonnes of garbage from our shores.

Very commendable indeed, but that’s not even scratching the surface.

We’ll be stuck with plastic beaches for years to come and it’s not Japan’s fault.

Have you ever heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch? It existed long before their country was decimated by a giant wave.

The sad truth is that humans have been using the ocean as a dump for the past century and now we’re finally reaping what we’ve collectively sown. We’re faced with an ocean full of garbage and beaches covered in plastic. I’m not talking about the large debris washing up on shore (although it should be picked up), I’m more concerned with the many tiny pieces of plastic that litter the beaches.

If we don’t do anything about it, you can say goodbye to the fish and the shorebirds (at the very least) because they’re eating this stuff and it’s killing them.

There’s no sense in pointing fingers or arguing over who did what or where it all came from. That’s a debate we can have amongst ourselves. What’s important now is that we deal with it and do our best to prevent the destruction of our beautiful coastline.

The good news is that our area has received large amounts of funding to help with the costs of debris removal. The District of Ucluelet was recently allocated $80,000 in tsunami cleanup funding, The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup organization was awarded $270,000 just last week and The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council was granted $96,000 for debris removal back in November.

So, we have the money, but what’s the plan? We’ve been left with a huge mess to clean up and we should be involved in the conversation and action to get it done. What we don’t need is another “program” that does nothing but throw money at the issue to make us look like we’ve been busy correcting it. What we need is action and an actual solution to the problem. The argument shouldn’t be over deciding to toss it all in the dump or recycle it.

The obvious choice here is to recycle what we can so it doesn’t end up in the ground either. There are many ways in which this plastic can be recycled. A good community brainstorming session is needed right now. The trash can be collected and reused in the traditional sense or we can turn it into art. Art breeds conversation, education, awareness and can be fun for everyone. I have many ideas I’d like to contribute but haven’t heard of any community outreach on the subject.

In my opinion, the first thing to do is to set up debris receptacles at every beach from Ucluelet to Tofino so our communities (and guests) can start pitching in and cleaning up.

Let’s get it done or rather, let’s get it started.

Alishia Fox is a Ucluelet resident.