Environmentalists call for ban on foam waste in Canadian waters

A woman calling for a ban on polystyrene in local waters says that the foam debris found floating in Burrard Inlet a few weeks ago is only the tip of a very large iceberg, with rogue foam at the centre of a “huge” environmental problem.

A kayaker who took to the waters of Burrard Inlet on a Sunday morning in February had his peaceful adventure ruined when he came across hundreds of pieces of Styrofoam, thought to have been broken off from a nearby containment boom.

Angela Burns, the co-founder of Fishing for Plastic, an environmental organization based in West Vancouver, said the floating waste is not a one-off occurrence, and is part of a wider problem regarding plastic and foam in Canadian waters.

“This foam is the number one source of dock floatation in British Columbia and across Canada, and the problem is that it is very amenable to breaking down. Before long it starts to fragment and it breaks into these tiny little bits that are impossible to get out of the marine environment,” she said.

“There is no way of vacuuming it up or separating it from sand and rocks, and they end up being eaten by mammals and seabirds who confuse it with food.”

In February the Canadian government responded to a petition Burns had put together with North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney, proposing a federal ban of foam within all Canadian waters.

Burns said the petition amassed thousands of signatures, most from the North Shore, but from the government they were met with a lacklustre response.

“They said that they have already done a lot of other work in plastic remediation, and this is not something they are going to be looking at anytime soon,” she said.

It has done little in the way of deterring Burns and her army of environmentalists. She said immediate success with the government wasn't expected, and she had prepared for this to be the first step on a long and gruelling journey to see change.

“This was just one of many steps. We have our meetings regularly and we’ll be continuing on with rebuttals to their response, as well as putting other plans in motion for the coming year to continue with our campaign,” she said.

In the meantime, Burns and her followers will continue with their extensive clean-up operations throughout the region, with previous shoreline operations carried out in Thormanby Island, Martin Island, Savary Island, Desolation Sound and Bowen Island.

Irene Wotton, who lives on Gambier Island, has been pulling polystyrene blocks out of the Howe Sound waters that surround her home for decades, and the waste problem is now “greater than it has ever been,” she said.

“Going out in the kayak or canoe is no longer the relaxing and enjoyable escape it once was, I am constantly paddling over to pick up chunks and small bits of Styrofoam and other plastics,” she said.

“Our shoreline is covered with these persistent little beads.”

Wotton said she does her best to clean up the shores, collecting as much as she can, but with no recycling facilities available nearby, the larger chunks prove to be a problem.

The barge that the Sunshine Coast provides annually to help Gambier residents remove materials they no longer have use for refuses to take the collected pieces of foam due to their size, and there is nowhere in Metro Vancouver that can take them either, she said.

What’s more, she would also have to navigate travelling across the waters with the pieces in tow, she said.

“I am very angry about the lack of help and support from our governments at all levels on this issue,” she said.

“It needs to be talked about and public awareness raised, Styrofoam is an environmental disaster.”

North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney has been contacted for comment.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.



Mina Kerr-Lazenby, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News