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WHALE FEST: SeaChange panel talks Microplastics

“That comes from packaging, food wrapping, containers, beverages etc. It’s everywhere.”
The Pacific Rim Whale Festival's SeaChange Panel speaker-list included: Michelle Hall



Whale Festival goers gathered in the George Fraser room at the UCC on Sunday to listen to a panel of ocean experts talk about microplastics and the effects they have the marine environment.

By definition, microplastics are particles that are smaller than five millimetres.  Guest speakers on the panel included Michelle Hall, chair of the Surfrider Pacific Rim Foundation, Dr. Peter Ross, director of the ocean pollution research at the Vancouver Aquarium, Dr. Sarah Dudas, lead microplastics researcher at Vancouver Island University, and our local NDP MP, Gord Johns. The discussion was moderated by Kylee Pawluk from the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.

“Microplastics come from everywhere. It’s estimated the average Canadian consumes or uses or disposes of three or four times his or her own body weight every year in plastic,” said Ross.

“That comes from packaging, food wrapping, containers, beverages etc. It’s everywhere.”

Dudas added that one of the main sources of microplastics is laundry.

“One of the biggest sources that we know of is sewage affluent. Every time we wash a polyester textile or synthetic textile, we’re generating fibres. Every time we wash our face with something with microbeads in it, plastic will get in there,” said Dudas.

Hall said the top pollutant on the Pacific Rim is plastic, followed by styrofoam, fishing equipment, and miscellaneous materials like cigarette butts.

“What we’re trying to do is definitely have fun cleaning up the beaches, but get to the root cause. Why is this ending up on our beaches in the first place?” said Hall.

Johns expressed his concerns.  

“Surfrider and the work they’re doing around marine debris has been highlighted certainly with the Hanjin [shipping container] spill. It highlights the impact that shipping has on our coast. We look at growth with Asia. We’re growing at about six per cent trade with North America with Asia and British Columbia is really the front line of that,” Johns said.

“We’re seeing tremendous amount of debris starting to accumulate on our coastline. We’ve seen a change over the last decade. In terms of what exists, there has actually only been six pieces of legislation ever introduced in parliament around the eradication of plastics and marine debris. Six. That’s it. That’s pretty weak. One of them was passed last year. So there is some success. Megan Leslie and her bill around consumer products with microbeads.”

“I will be bringing forward legislation, I can tell you that. And I’m very excited about that. I’m going to need everyone’s help,” said Johns.

Ross brought up the fact that the government of India recently banned all single use plastic beverage and food packaging.

“Germany. I think it was 1992. They required that anything being sold in store be 100 per cent recyclable including packaging. They’ve created an internal economy within Germany that is almost an entirely closed economic loop,” Ross went on to note.