By Kate Le Souef, manager, Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup
If you’re visiting us at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre this Tuesday and Wednesday, you’ll notice a massive art installation on our Waterfall Plaza, made up of heaps of colourful clothing. This large-scale, interactive art installation is part of “I Give A Sh!rt!” an initiative by Value Village intended to encourage people to consider the environmental impact of the clothes they buy.
The art installation will mimic a hazardous waste spill to represent the toll the clothing industry exacts on the environment. Among the impacts:
- It can take more than 700 gallons of water to make one new cotton T-shirt.
- 95 per cent of clothes that get thrown away could be reused or recycled.
- North Americans send over 26 billion pounds of clothing to landfills each year.
We know from leading the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup that some of that clothing ends up in the ocean or thrown away on shorelines.
Sometimes, it’s the most benign litter that can have the most unexpected impacts. Tiny cigarette butts actually contain plastic and don’t break down when tossed away. A simple plastic bag can be deadly to a turtle who mistakes it for a jellyfish. That plastic packing band that came around the box of books you ordered online can easily entangle a sea lion.
But did you know that even clothing can have unwanted consequences for our oceans too? In 2015 more than 9,400 shoes and items of clothing were picked up as part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup including nearly 4,000 items in B.C. alone.
Researchers have recently discovered tiny fibres of plastic (microfibres) all through the ocean. The Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Pollution Research Program, has counted as much as 9,200 particles of microplastic per cubic meter of seawater, which includes microfibres. These fibres are coming from synthetic clothing and other textiles, and are usually released during the washing cycle. But it’s easy to imagine that a fleece left on a shoreline might also release these same fibres as it breaks down due to the action of wind, waves and sunshine.
So what can you do? The solution to most litter is the same: reduce, reuse, recycle or refuse. In the case of clothing, you can choose to reuse old items for longer or buy used clothing from the growing number of thrift stores like Value Village or others. You can choose natural fibres such as wool and cotton and when your clothing reaches the end of its life, donate or recycle it responsibly. To learn more about I Give A Sh!rt, visit Value Village’s website: www.RethinkReuse.ca
Come and visit the installation on Aug. 17 to learn more, take pictures, and share on social using #igiveashirt. Find out more through the “I Give A Sh!rt” Event listing on Facebook here.
You can also help by leaving your shoreline cleaner than you found it by starting a shoreline cleanup at your local stream, lake or beach. Visit www.shorelinecleanup.ca or email [email protected] to get started.
The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, and supported by Ricoh Canada and YVR, is a joint conservation initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF-Canada.