Before you grab your boots and gloves and head toward a shoreline for International Coastal Cleanup Day on Saturday Sept. 17, can you guess the most common kind of trash fouling B.C.’s coast?
Plastic bags? Drink and food containers and straws? Face masks?
Nope. Those are common, along with bits of plastic and styrofoam.
But topping the list–the most numerous by far–are cigarette butts. Volunteers in Canada, including 9,764 British Columbians, snagged 146,614 butts last year, reported the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, a partnership of Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund, and sponsored by Loblaws.
Cigarettes “dominate litter collected from BC coastlines,” concluded a University of British Columbia study from 2018.
If you want to help make our coasts cleaner, click on “participate” on the website of The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup to join an event in your area. If you don’t see one happening near your home, you can also choose to lead one. It’s the official Canadian partner with the American-based International Coastal Cleanup Day – though in B.C., events are held throughout the year, not just on Sept. 17.
Canada’s Shoreline Cleanup is the biggest of several coastal cleanups held throughout B.C., by schools, universities, communities, and environmental non-profit organizations, such as BC Marine Trails.
The success of all their efforts was cited in a provincial report on Marine Debris in B.C. in 2020, which noted “most shoreline clean-up programs…were undertaken by non-profit organizations supported by volunteers.”
Their work can be both daunting and surprising. Last June the “Clear the Coast” program by the Living Oceans Society sent a team to remote Cape Scott Provincial Park, on the northern coast of Vancouver Island. Over three days volunteers reported cleaning up the usual fishing and aquaculture gear–but also debris from two massive container ships, the Zim Kingston, which caught fire off Victoria last October, dumped 109 containers in the Salish Sea, and the ONE Apus, which dumped over 1800 containers off Hawai’i in 2020.
And sometimes, volunteers put the garbage to unexpected uses. On the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino sculptor Pete Clarkson uses plastic garbage plucked from the beaches to make public art. His latest creation was unveiled in August, noted the Pacific Rim chapter of Australian-based Surfrider.