Water is a precious resource and commodity. It covers about 71 per cent of the world’s surface. Few realize that no matter where you are in the world, the water near you is connected to the water on the other side of the world, and freshwater rivers and lakes are connected to salt water bays and our oceans. Even the water in the most remote parts of our country is affected by our behaviours, such as keeping our waterways free of litter.
Shoreline litter may contain dangerous chemicals that can degrade water quality if it enters our waterways. Some obvious examples, such as batteries, paint or oil cans, are items that can easily contaminate our water and aquatic ecosystems with toxic chemicals. However, some less obvious examples of shoreline litter that may affect the quality of our waterways are chip bags, styrofoam containers and cigarette filters. These items and many other shoreline litter items are made from, or contain, plastic, a material that will break apart, but not disappear. This leads to potential entanglement and ingestion of this plastic debris by aquatic and marine species.
Researchers have found plastic debris in a variety of aquatic and marine species, such as albatross, Steller sea lions, northern elephant seals, harbour porpoises, Pacific white-sided dolphins and humpback whales (Williams, Ashe, & O’Hara, 2011). The good news is, this is entirely preventable.
We can change our behaviours and make a difference. Start with one simple thing that you can do or live without, like committing to using a reusable water bottle or mug. Once that becomes daily habit, move on to the next small change. It’s easy to commit to keeping our aquatic ecosystems healthy with these five tips in reducing shoreline litter:
- Clean up your garbage, no matter where you are. Almost 95 per cent of shoreline litter items picked up during last year’s Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, originated from land and land-based activities.
- Use reusable containers and cutlery whenever and wherever you can. Reusable bags, coffee mugs and water bottles are some quick and easy ways many people have already adopted. Other suggestions include bringing your own utensils and containers for takeout meals.
- When shopping, look for items that can be recycled or are biodegradable. The Ocean Conservancy’s “Recycling Decoder” is a good basic summary of what can and cannot be recycled, but look on your municipality website to find out what exactly can be easily recycled in your city or town.
- Find alternatives to household and garden chemicals. Don’t use fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that can wash into open waters. Natural ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar and baking soda make excellent household cleaning products.
- Sign up a Scout, Guide or school group to for the spring cleanup in May, and save the date for the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup national fall cleanup in September at ShorelineCleanup.ca
For more ideas on the impacts of shoreline litter and how you can protect our aquatic ecosystems, visit ShorelineCleanup.ca/learn-more/links