UBC study: half of the garbage on Vancouver’s shorelines is cigarettes

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Cigarettes make up about 50 per cent of the litter found on Vancouver’s shorelines, according to a new study from UBC.

Researchers at the university analyzed data about the types of garbage collected during 1,226 voluntary shoreline cleanups between 2013 and 2016. The cleanups were organized by the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, a conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF-Canada.

The team found that plastics comprised 80 to 90 per cent of the garbage found on shorelines in Vancouver and Victoria. Almost 50 per cent of the litter consisted of plastic cigarettes and cigarette filters.

Pieces of foam, food wrappers and containers were also commonly found along the southern Strait of Georgia. On the north coast of B.C. near Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii plastic bags and bottles were more common.

Study co-author and UBC masters student Vanessa Fladmark says people need to reduce their consumption of single-use plastics. There are reusable options they can use to replace plastic straws, takeout containers and coffee cups to ensure litter doesn’t end up on the shorelines or in the ocean.

Fladmark acknowledges that limiting our use of plastics is really difficult. “Our society is really reliant on plastic. It’s a really big global issue but by doing our best and trying to reduce as much as possible we can really make a difference.”

She says we use plastic because it’s quick to make and very durable but it remains in the environment for a long time breaking up into tiny pieces called microplastics that marine animals mistake for food and ingest. “We don’t know what impacts microplastics can have on humans but it’s definitely not good that it’s getting into our food chain and wreaking havoc on our ecosystems.”

A City of Vancouver street team recently handed out pocket-sized ashtrays to smokers encouraging them to recycle their cigarettes but the initiative has been criticized because the small containers are made of plastic.

The city launched a pilot program to recycle cigarette butts in 2013 with TerraCycle as part of its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan installing 110 new recycling containers in the downtown core.

Earlier this year, city council voted to ban plastic straws, foam cups and containers by June 1, 2019 as part of its Zero Waste 2040 Strategy.

The research team’s findings were published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin. 

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Melissa is a reporter at Vancouver Is Awesome and has worked primarily in radio and online media. She grew up in Ontario, went to school in Halifax and worked in Northern B.C. before moving to Vancouver. If you've got a story to share email: melissa@vancouverisawesome.com