Actions To Jumpstart Ocean Regeneration This World Oceans Day

On this World Ocean Day we are taking a deep dive into the plastic that plagues our waterways, here are Actions to Jumpstart Ocean Regeneration this World Oceans Day, written By Lilly Woodbury, Surfrider Foundation Canada. All photos: Nicole Holman. 

Humpback whales making a comeback on the brink of collapse. Marine protected areas rising from 0.9% of the ocean in 2000 to 7.4% at the present time. New Zealand taking leadership for this blue planet by announcing a ban on all new offshore and oil and gas drilling. Seagrass meadows restored after almost dissipating due to toxic pollution in Florida.

These extraordinary cases are all ocean victories that have been won in the last 22 years, since 1992 when Canada originally proposed the World Oceans Day global event at the Earth Summit. Now we find ourselves in 2020, with more at risk than ever before, but equipped with greater knowledge, science, and will than ever before to regenerate the oceans in this brief window of opportunity. Within this, one of the most monumental ocean issues for us to collectively solve is plastic pollution.

Considering this, here’s Surfrider Foundation Canada’s low-down on the federal landscape for action on plastics and what we can do to ensure our government stays on track, including ways we can continue to embrace the reuse and refill revolution and not revert back to disposable lifestyles in the wake of CV-19.

WORLD OCEAN DAY 4Photo: Nicole Holman

Landscape of regulatory change in Canada
In the last two years, we have seen the movement to address plastic pollution drastically rise in Canada, including the launch of the federal government’s Canada-Wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste in June 2019. We now find ourselves in a pivotal moment on the planet with the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we’ve witnessed in past crises, polluting industries capitalize on these vulnerable periods to lobby governments for deregulation.

We’re currently seeing this in the United States as the plastics industry is working to overturn plastic bans, citing misinformation that single-use plastics are the most sanitary material to rely on, while reusables are a risk for spreading the virus. We cannot allow this same situation to take control in Canada. Moreover, we are beyond banning the bag; we need to elevate our efforts to a greater number of comprehensive measures in order to address this complex problem.


Photo: Nicole Holman

Creating Inclusive and a Systems-Level Approach to Strengthening Our Zero Plastic Waste Strategy
Building upon the tremendous work achieved by First Nations, nonprofits, municipal governments, businesses, and countless citizens across this coastal nation, we know it’s crucial for the federal government to stay the course with the Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste, advancing action to eliminate and reduce plastic pollution and waste. We know this is necessary for safeguarding the oceans, for a just recovery from the pandemic, and for enabling environmental justice, all of which encompassed in investing in a circular economy.

We have been advocating for these measures that the federal government needs to prioritize in their intervention:

• Expanding extended producer responsibility that makes manufacturers of products containing plastics or using plastic packaging responsible for the full life cycle of what they produce;
• Banning plastic products and packaging that result in marine debris and pollution or is otherwise difficult to collect and recycle;
• Requiring manufacturers of products containing plastics or using plastic packaging to use a minimum amount of recycled content;

• Redirecting subsidies from the plummeting petrochemical sector towards clean energy, which will also result in the creation of more jobs;
• Supporting the equitable transition of workers in oil and gas by providing stimulus funding for training, education and employment in low-carbon sectors;
• Establishing the infrastructure for clean water in Indigenous communities across Canada that currently do not have access to potable water. This is not only a human right that is essential for mitigating this pandemic, but this will also aid in lowering the need for people in need to rely on plastic bottled water.

Photo: Nicole Holman

Now is the time to make our voice heard, to write to our MP’s and share the above measures, and write with urgency to reflect the reality of our oceanic situation. When we surf, where we look, we go. We stare down the face of the wave, and that becomes our trajectory. The same goes for our approach to environmental victories, we must seek them out and chase them. This involves applying what we can to our own lives, making our voices heard to our elected representatives at all levels, and making changes in the businesses, industries and institutions we work for and interact with.

Getting the Facts Straight About CV-19 on Surfaces and Plastics
This World Oceans Day has been washed with the return of many forms of plastic, as PPE gear fills our ditches and waterways, and single-use plastics creep back into societal acceptance. However, there are zero reasons for this material to make a comeback at a time when we need to end plastic pollution most.

A new study in The New England Journal of Medicine has indicated that CV-19 can live on plastic surfaces for up to two or three days, longer than all other materials tested, including cardboard and glass. Furthermore, single-use plastics are only distributed after they’ve reached the end of the supply chain line after being handled by an array of workers, and thus pose an increased risk of harbouring viruses. Personally owned reusable bottles, mugs, bags and containers stay sanitary as long as they are washed with hot water and soap.

World Oceans DayPhoto: Nicole Holman

While the foodservice industry is encouraged to consider disposable options, the CDC also provides ample guidance for the safe management of reusables, stating that where disposables “are not feasible or desirable, ensure all non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water, or in a dishwasher.”

As coronavirus is primarily a respiratory pathogen, contact transmission is very unlikely; there would have to be enough viable particles on a surface that would then need to be transferred to the mouth or nose. We also need the commercial sector to take leadership and implement safe systems for reusables, which is not only positive for their brand but for their contribution to the larger social and environmental issues facing our planet at this time by embracing* the reuse and refill revolution.

Solutions to Support the Refill & Reusable Revolution

Below is a synthesis of the best recommendations for amplifying the use of reusables this World Oceans Day and forever onward. Of course, always please refer to your provincial, regional and local regulations surrounding this subject. These practices can and need to be implemented by businesses as well as supported by customers.

Photo: Nicole Holman

• Encourage sanitized reusable vessels that can be washed in house – staff can wear gloves and wash containers. Employees should wash their hands after removing their gloves or after handling used food service items. Customers should always ensure their reusable items are washed and sanitized when brought to businesses.
• If reusable bags are not permitted in-house, purchased items can be brought outside the business and put into customer’s reusable bags.
• Provide a contactless exchange for beverages and food takeaway. Businesses can do this by using a reusable transfer vessel and exchanging the consumable item into the customer’s reusable vessel. This method has become popular around the world with coffee shops.

• Make use of ‘swap n go’ reusable mug network scheme, where mugs are stored and sanitized in-house.
• Offer a container take-back program via a deposit-refund system.
• If single-use items are unavoidable, opt for back-yard compostable takeaway containers.
• Where in-house reuse-return schemes aren’t feasible, encourage takeout customers to BYO utensils and provide backyard compostable cutlery only upon request (and, ideally, for a charge.)
• We need to move forward with a total system overhaul to make using reusables a safe and convenient option. These systems are not only better for the environment, but are more sanitary, too.

Photo: Nicole Holman

Towards a thriving ocean
The CDC suggests protocols for safe handling of reusables when disposables are not “desirable”; we hope you agree that there are very few instances where disposables are ever desirable. We need to keep in mind both the human and environmental toll of production and disposal of single-use plastic packaging: from the communities breathing the toxic pollution from oil refineries and ethane crackers to the frontline workers touching contaminated packaging at waste management and recycling facilities, to the communities living near landfills and incinerators, to the streets and beaches burdened by plastic waste, to the oceans that have become a regretful sink for this toxic material – these circumstances are all perpetrated by the use of single-use packaging. We need to emphasize and address all social ramifications of plastic, as our work to protect our humanity is the other side of the same coin of our efforts to protect and regenerate the oceans.

Photo: Nicole Holman

About Surfrider Foundation Canada
Surfrider Foundation Canada is a registered Canadian charity dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the ocean, beaches and waves. Surfrider Foundation Canada has three chapters in British Columbia: the Vancouver Chapter, the Vancouver Island Chapter based in Victoria, and the Pacific Rim chapter based in Tofino and Ucluelet.

Surfrider has built a committed network in British Columbia of coastal defenders who transform their passion for the coast into lasting preservation and regeneration. Our communities are dominated by guardians including First Nations, grassroots environmentalists, and scientists, as well as ocean lovers, surfers, kayakers, beach walkers, and fishing enthusiasts. Bridging local knowledge together with national experts in law, policy and science, Surfrider is a leading voice and actor on ending plastic pollution.


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