Learning about marine plastics, recycling, and sustainability at an innovative facility

Our Tsawwassen First Nation Summer Stewardship program toured Ocean Legacy Foundation’s facility.

Raincoast’s Education Program often collaborates with organizations who share similar goals of understanding and protecting coastal ecosystems, allowing us to incorporate a wider range of topics and providing different perspectives. This year, our Summer Stewardship Program, offered to Tsawwassen youth in partnership with the Tsawwassen First Nation, collaborated with Ocean Legacy Foundation.

Tackling plastic pollution

Initiated in 2013, Ocean Legacy Foundation (OLF) is a non-profit organization with the goal of ending ocean plastic pollution through education, policy, infrastructure, and cleanups. OLF works to remove and prevent plastics from ending up in the ocean, where they persist for hundreds to thousands of years, breaking up into tiny pieces called microplastics and nanoplastics. With an estimated 8 to 13 million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean every year, solutions for the removal and diversion of plastic from the ocean, elimination of new plastic production, and development of alternative materials are sorely needed.

“Solving the plastic pollution crisis is complex but necessary. Ocean Legacy was inspired by the changes which need to occur to manage marine solid wastes and is driven by the passionate people who seek to make the world around them a healthier place for all.” 

Ocean Legacy Foundation

Ocean Legacy Foundation leads large scale ocean and terrestrial cleanups, have set up Ocean Plastics Depots in coastal communities, and operate the Plastic Pollution Emergency Response™ Facility. At this innovative facility, the first of its kind in Canada, they accept, sort according to material type, and process huge quantities of marine plastic. The plastic gets recycled and transformed into Legacy Plastic pellets, which can then be transformed into new, durable 100% recycled items.

“The most common types of marine debris are primarily a combination of derelict fishing gear such as ropes, floats and traps as well as single use items which include food wrappers, bottle caps, straws, tampon applicators, beverage bottles and cigarette butts.”

Ocean Legacy Foundation

As education is one of the pillars of Ocean Legacy Foundation, Tsawwassen First Nation youth participating in our Summer Stewardship program were invited to tour the facility to better understand the sources and impacts of plastic pollution, and to see first-hand the process of recycling marine plastic.

People stand around a pile of fishing gear and other assorted plastics that are waiting to be recycled.
Photo by Pascale Campagna-Slater.

Plastics curriculum

Before visiting the facility, program participants engaged with Ocean Legacy’s plastics curriculum called EPIC Academy. Open to independent learners and educators alike, it provides background on the plastic pollution crisis, and actionable steps towards mitigation. Facilitated by Tsawwassen First Nation Summer Stewardship program lead Megan Sutherland, the youth learned about the chemicals involved in plastic production, the ways in which different forms of plastic are categorized and recycled, the compound issues which result from plastic pollution, and possible steps in addressing these outcomes. They also took part in some trivia around the shocking realities of plastic pollution and contamination.

“The most shocking fact we learned was that humans consume microplastics through their diet,” shares Megan. The youth then got creative with an upcycling activity, transforming single use plastic items into living pieces of art, such as a pop bottle into a jellyfish, or a takeaway bag serving as a notebook. 

Our tour of the facility

We were greeted at the Steveston facility by Chloé Dubois, Co-founder and Executive Director, and Josh McLean, Development Coordinator. The first thing that struck us was the volume of plastics in the yard: giant bags stuffed with buoys and buckets, and bales of fishing nets stacked five high. The extent of plastics stands in stark contrast to the beautiful mural of humpback whales painted on the outside wall of the facility.

We walked through the rows of plastics waiting to be recycled and learned about the sources of the debris, the many types of plastics and the challenge of sorting and recycling them, and how they can get transformed into new plastic objects. Chloé and Josh led us through the facility to see firsthand the machinery and the steps to recycling plastics: separation of plastic types, cutting and grinding into smaller pieces, removal of contaminants, the melting down of the raw plastics and transformation into plastic pre-manufactured pellets. 

The youth were then invited to help by hand-sorting plastic debris according to the seven types of plastics, the first step in the recycling process. We discovered how challenging this can be when applying this to plastics collected from cleanups, with a simple single-use water bottle alone containing three types of plastic; the bottle itself, the cap, and the label, which all need to be separated and recycled through separate processes. The scale of the challenge of sorting and recycling all of the plastic at the facility, with new debris arriving everyday, seemed incredibly daunting, and we were impressed and grateful for the important work being done by Ocean Legacy Foundation.

Seven people stand amongst large bags of plastic waiting to be recycled.
Photo by Pascale Campagna-Slater.

Next steps for the youth

The Summer Stewardship Program, based out of Tsawwassen First Nation, runs until the end of August, and will engage youth in various aspects of stewardship and environmental science, such as salmon sampling and research, environmental DNA analysis, and sustainable farming. Megan and the youth are excited to continue their learning journey on ocean plastics and to find creative ways to tackle plastic pollution in their community.

You can help

Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

We investigate to understand coastal species and processes. We inform by bringing science to decision-makers and communities. We inspire action to protect wildlife and wildlife habitats.

Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.