Talkin' Trash at the Beach

By Melissa Shaw

Amidst news about terrorist attacks abroad and the Pokemon Go craze, our News Friends crew covered a humble local event, a beach cleanup in Vancouver's Crab Park.

Our volunteer news team (Michael, Deanna and I) made a short video using a mix of basic equipment:

The event was organized by the local Surfrider Foundation chapter and about 20 volunteers came out on a cloudy Saturday morning to pick up trash. One of the volunteers, Lindsay Siu, brought her two children, who seem fascinated with the activity.

The day was not just about removing trash, but about citizen science. Volunteers measured and recorded each type of garbage they found. Surfrider Vancouver chair Matthew Unger said they send the data to universities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA) and local government to report on the conditions at our local beaches.

Surfrider Vancouver is working on a campaign called Straws Suck and trying to get Vancouver restaurants, bars, cafes etc. to make their plastic straws available on request or make the switch to paper straws. It's easy to see how straws can harm marine life because there are videos on YouTube of sea turtles having them removed from their nostrils with pliers.

Watch this if you need a visual (but don't watch it if you get squeamish at the sight of blood) :

The other major Surfrider Vancouver project is the Hold on to Your Butt campaign, which encourages the public to recycle their cigarette butts. The City of Vancouver also purchased cigarette butt recycling containers and placed them around the city as part of a pilot project in 2013. The Province reported that an evaluation of that pilot project will guide future recycling efforts.

Unger said cigarette butts are not biodegradable and accumulate toxins, which are ingested by fish, displacing food with a “toxic compound.”

There are signs posted at Vancouver's beaches explaining that smoking is not allowed but we saw a random stranger smoking on the beach during the cleanup. He's in the video if you watch closely. I've seen people having campfires on the beach and drinking alcoholic beverages at any time of day – two other activities that the city put under a "please don't" list.

Rules or no rules, Unger said any cans or bottles left on the beach get picked up because they have value. He would like to see a deposit return program for cigarette butts to encourage people to recycle them.

Beach cleanup volunteer Stephanie Reimer said she tries to limit her consumption of products.

"Realizing how much garbage does end up on the beach..It gives you an awareness in your everyday life about how much plastic you use," she said.

Surfrider Vancouver regularly organizes shoreline cleanups at different beaches in Vancouver and Vancouver Island.