Georgia Strait Alliance is the only citizens' group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia – Canada's most at-risk natural environment, and the place where 70% of British Columbians live, work and play. We are committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

September 7, 2010

Our garbage to clean up

As part of this year's annual wilderness kayak trip (see last week's blog for more), my husband and I found what we call a piece of heaven. Not far from God's Pocket Marine Park, we spent 4 days camped at a location that had a gorgeous sandy beach and a lovely rocky beach, linked by a beautiful cedar forest. Keeping us company were wrens, plovers, eagles, ravens and a few black-tailed deer. It was truly a spectacular part of coastal BC and we were thrilled to call it home for a few days.

But though we were far from any human contact the impact of civilization was all around us. The sandy beach had garbage strewn all along the high tide line. We had seen some garbage on other beaches we camped at along Vancouver Island but this was the worst and was truly jarring.

We spent much of our time paddling and enjoying the peace the island had to offer, but we couldn't ignore the debris that continually crossed our paths.

So, on our third full day of passing by a garbage can half buried in the sand, we decided to hold an impromptu beach clean-up. We felt it was a sign! After spending a 1/2 hour digging up said can, we went to work. Several hours later, we stood before a stunning amount of garbage for one beach. Here's what we found:

- 79 plastic drink bottles
- 25 styrofoam floats
- 25 plastic containers for household products, including prescriptions, soap, bleach and salad dressing
- 200 feet of rope
- 15 plastic bottles for industrial products
- 12 plastic car oil containers
- 1 strip of tarp
- 1 food barrel
- 1 fender
- 1 two foot long mercury halide lamp
- 1 grocery store tray
- 2 tire floats
- 1 tire with rim

And we didn't get it all. Out of necessity, we ignored items < 3cm long. In the end, we filled that garbage pail plus 3 full size garbage bags and we still had to pile some of it up. It was truly incredible considering, here we were, 45km from Port Hardy, 200km from Campbell River and 450km from Vancouver! There is a happy ending to this story, however. We've arranged with the wonderful owners of Odyssey Kayaking, Pat and Jackie Kervin, to head back to the island to pick up the results of our garbage clean up and take it away to be responsibly processed. Considering at least 1/2 of what we found is recyclable, it will not just be going to the dump!

Where this garbage came from is unclear, but at the end of the day, it's ours. The garbage in our oceans started with us and ended up here - where we live, work and play. It's something we all need to take a hard look at doing something about.

What can you do?
- take part in a local beach clean up, and see how good it feels to clean up a bit of our world.
- find out what your community is doing to reduce garbage, from Zero Waste Challenge to education on choosing products with less or no packaging.
- choose products with minimal packaging or that can be recycled.
- find out how garbage is managed in your community and support innovative ways for it to be handled so that it doesn't end up on our oceans. Ask local or regional staff for more information.
- raise the issue with your friends and neighbours. The more each of us becomes aware of the garbage we create and where it can end up, the sooner we can solve this growing problem.

And finally, if you find yourself on a city street, country road or distant beach and see some garbage, take a moment to pick it up and dispose of it responsibly. By doing a little bit of 'street and beach clean-up' every day, along with reducing the garbage we create, we have a chance to keep more pieces of heaven clean for generations to come.