Straws and plastic bags have some new company in the crosshairs of local ocean lovers as pens, highlighters, markers and all their caps are now also being targeted by the Surfrider Foundation’s Pacific Rim Chapter.
Vancouver-based recycling company Terracycle has launched a new program aimed at recycling plastic writing utensils that are often simply discarded when they run out of ink. Surfrider has brought the initiative to the West Coast thanks to partnerships with Tofino’s Ultramarine Art Supply and Ucluelet’s Blackberry Cove Marketplace, which will serve as drop-off locations for locals to bring their writing utensils to.
Surfrider’s local chapter manager Lilly Woodbury said that, while writing utensils are not as pervasive as other more commonly found beach-debris items like coffee cups or takeout containers, they are a single-use plastic worth tackling.
“Many of these utensils, mostly markers and highlighters, cannot be refilled. Once their content has been used up, they are fated for landfill or waterways,” she said. “This is yet another step on the path to divert more waste from landfill, and to eliminate the need to extract raw resources for plastic production.”
“Imagine in one year in Canada how many tons of plastic will be recycled from writing utensils alone.”
Andre McGillivray, the co-owner of Ultramarine Art Supply said signing up to help propel the effort locally was a “no brainer.”
“We deeply care about living life with as small a footprint as we can possibly execute and anything we can do to improve that is a great idea,” he said adding he and many other locals have likely thrown old pens away without thinking of the impact.
“It’s a one-time plastic thing. We forget how much that adds up…If we can avoid that moving forward, then that would be incredible.”
He added it’s important for local businesses to get onboard and support Surfrider’s ongoing environmental efforts.
“Surfrider has cleaned up the beach hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times and will continue to do so,” he said. “Even after this major storm here, we’re all seeing the result of our neglect with the microplastics that have washed up…We’ll be cleaning these things up forever and Surfrider propels us and reminds us to be diligent, disciplined and continue.”
When Blackberry Cove’s owner Susan Lee heard about Ultramarine’s efforts in Tofino, she immediately reached out to Surfrider and offered her marketplace as a venue for Uclueletians to drop off their old plastic writing utensils.
“I wanted to participate because we’re doing as much as we can on our end to try to run a business with as low an environmental impact as possible and to live up to my values of environmentalism and a very big part of those is reducing the use of plastic and also making sure that plastic stays out of the stream where it eventually ends up in our oceans,” she said.
“It’s just a small little step but it’s raising awareness and when you add up all the pens that would end up going into landfills or into the ocean, it’s actually a big deal.”
She added she believes the program will be successful.
“I know there’s people in Ukee, because they come into my store everyday, that have the same values and so I thought this was a simple thing that I could do,” she said. “I’m sure there’s a ton of other really good little ideas out there and maybe this will stimulate some other ideas of small easy steps that will make a difference when it’s all accumulated.”
Woodbury was thrilled to see McGillivray and Lee take hold of the initiative and said it’s important for local businesses to take ownership of their surroundings and practice good stewardship.
“Now more than ever, we all have a responsibility to get involved in lowering the amount of plastic used and plastic waste generated,” she said. “Businesses are included in this, and have a great opportunity to be the example in terms of eliminating single use plastics because they interact with so many people on any given day.”
She added businesses can influence their customers’ behaviours, especially in the West Coast’s tourism economy.
“Think of all of the businesses in the Pacific Rim that have eliminated plastic straws, people all over the world who have interacted with these businesses have been part of this operational change and have gained insight on why plastic straws are not used,” she said. “As a community with an exceptional amount of visitors, it is extremely important for the business community to lower the amount of plastic pollution, and for businesses to consider other environmental policies regarding resource use and waste.”