Newsletter: What beach cleanups reveal about the world

As part of my investigation into water pollution, I’ve been talking to people who organize beach cleanups. For the last few years, they’ve been finding alarming amounts of plastic on some of Western Canada’s remotest beaches, and then towing much of it away by the barge-full.

Imagine barges loaded with all kinds of junk, ranging from water bottles to giant buoys — some of it all the way from Asia, including via the 2011 Japanese tsunami; some from littering in B.C.; some from marine industries. Then, think of that as only the tip of the iceberg.

“The image I would convey to Canadians, when thinking of our remote coastlines, is not necessarily pristine, but more of a collection zone for industrial waste or marine debris,” says Chloe Dubois, executive director of Ocean Legacy, a non-profit focused on tackling the global marine-debris problem. The seemingly endless amounts of waste she’s seen on beach cleanups also highlight an urgent problem: The world sucks at managing its waste.

In one case on Vancouver Island, Chloe and a team of volunteers found a small area — just 8 feet wide — filled with 7 cubic metres of debris, including tires, barrels and buoys. She’s also seen pits filled knee-deep with waterlogged styrofoam so heavy that it takes four or five people to remove.

Then there’s debris people can barely see, if at all. Sometimes, it breaks down from larger pieces of plastic. Other times, it’s small to begin with. Since 2016, two librarians in Victoria, B.C. have been documenting nurdles, lentil-sized pellets of plastic used to manufacture plastic products, showing up on beaches across B.C. But they still haven’t figured out where the nurdles are coming from.

Nurdles are so small that they’re hard to spot, and can easily be confused with shells. University of Victoria librarians David Boudinot and Daniel Brendle-Moczuk collected these nurdles from Willows Beach in Victoria, B.C. in 2016.

Later this month, I’m heading to Tofino and Ucluelet in B.C. to learn about how plastic pollution is affecting locals and what they’re doing about it. So far, efforts to clean up debris have been led by community groups with some support from industry. Now, environmental activists, community groups and B.C. MP Gord Johns are calling for a national strategy for dealing with marine debris. I plan to interview people about what this strategy might look like, and how it could help communities across Canada. In the meantime, I’d love your feedback. What are your thoughts on this issue? And what questions should I ask? Tell me via email, Twitter or Facebook.

I’m also gathering water pollution stories from across the country. Do you have a story or photo to share about plastic pollution or another type of water pollution? If so, please email me, or share on social media, using the hashtag #SustainableDiscourse. Finally, if you know someone who’s interested in sustainability, please forward my newsletter and ask them to subscribe.

How common is gender-based violence in your community?

Have you ever wondered how common violence against women is in Canada? That’s a question Emma Jones, Discourse’s gender reporter, has been working on. It’s also critical when it comes to Canada’s progress on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.

It took months, but Emma convinced Statistics Canada to put together a custom data set for Discourse that reveals national data on police-reported rates of violence against women. We recently published it in the form of a tool that you can use to check rates of violence against women in your community. If you live in a community with a particularly high or low rate of violence, Emma would love to know what this data means to you. Tweet at her using the hashtag #cdnviolencedata, or send her an email.


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