Thank you very much.
I'm delighted to join you today from rainy Vancouver via video link. My apologies for not being there in person.
My name is Dr. Peter Ross. I'm vice-president of research at the Ocean Wise Conservation Association in Vancouver.
We at Ocean Wise, formerly the Vancouver Aquarium, have been showcasing for over 25 years the harm that plastic can cause. Through a range of research, engagement and action initiatives, we have engaged individuals, communities, the private sector and the public sector in a number of positive, practical and solution-oriented ways. We believe that in order to solve the plastic pollution crisis, we need a team approach, one that is inclusive and speaks to the role and the potential of each and every Canadian. After all, plastic is all around each and every one of us: at home, at school, at work, at play and on the road.
I'll simply touch on a few key points that are important to us and salient in terms of the plastic pollution crisis, and steps that we can take as a country.
The first point I'll make is that plastic is everywhere. The plastic pollution issue is widespread and very real. Our great Canadian shoreline cleanup has been documenting the “dirty dozen” items on beaches across Canada for over 25 years. Our plastics laboratory first documented the widespread distribution of microplastics in the north Pacific Ocean in 2014, and we are currently finding tiny microplastics throughout the waters of the Arctic Ocean. Simply put, plastics of all sizes, shapes and kinds are found everywhere in the Canadian aquatic environment.
Second, plastic is being consumed by all creatures, big and small. Everywhere we look, we find plastic: from rubber boots found in the stomach of whales to microplastics found in oysters. Our researchers even discovered that zooplankton, the foundational group of animals that sustain life in the ocean, are mistaking tiny pieces of plastic for food in the north Pacific Ocean. Plastic now appears to be found throughout aquatic food webs.
Third, plastic is harmful. In that, I refer to plastic pollution being harmful. Plastic is frequently confused for food by albatross and sea turtles—as we've known for decades—and it represents a serious conservation threat to several species and populations. Plastic can block or damage the gut; it can smother, suffocate or drown; it can entangle, slow down or get in the way; it can deliver a cocktail of endocrine-disrupting chemicals to the consumer. Simply put, plastic is not nutritious. Our marine mammal rescue team, together with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, has been disentangling sea lions off the coast of British Columbia for several years, a costly and dangerous operation that is important but cannot deal with the many hundreds of marine mammals that are presently swimming about the ocean with packing straps, nets and lines around their necks.
Fourth, plastic pollution threatens the quality of traditional seafoods for indigenous communities on Canada's three coastlines. Coastal communities along our three ocean coastlines rely heavily on seafoods. In coastal British Columbia, we have shown that the average first nations consumer eats up to 15 times more seafood than the average Canadian. In the Arctic, this can be as much as 25 times more seafood than the average Canadian. This means that seafood is far more important to these individuals in these communities, and it means that plastic pollution in the oceans threatens the quality and safety of their seafood.
Fifth, plastic pollution is not just about unsightly litter. Litter and marine debris present obvious risks to sea life, but the smaller pieces of plastic, the barely visible or invisible to the human eye plastics, which we call microplastics, have emerged as a significant new concern over the past decade. Canada's leadership in banning the microbead, a deliberately manufactured microplastic particle, through CEPA regulations was novel and forward-looking, an easy win. It was low-hanging fruit, but while conducting research in the ocean, we rarely run into microbeads.
What we run into, rather, are broken-down bits of larger plastics. These are called secondary plastics or, in the case of very small ones, secondary microplastics. Where do these come from? There is evidence from our group and others that larger products and items like old bags, containers, shipping materials and microfibres from textiles are actually escaping their intended use or leaking into the environment.
Our plastics lab has partnered with Mountain Equipment Co-op, Arc'teryx, REI, Patagonia, Metro Vancouver, and Environment and Climate Change Canada to track fibres from clothing—that's right, clothing—from home laundry through municipal waste-water treatment plants to the ocean, using high-end forensic science technologies and study designs.
In 2018, we published the first study documenting microplastics in a Canadian waste-water treatment plant. That was here in Vancouver. In this study, we estimated that 1.8 trillion particles of plastic enter the plant every single year.
Some of this, of course, is very bad news, but I view the bad news as an opportunity. Bad news can lead to good news. Everyone seems to understand that we have a problem, be they school children or professionals, and this offers everyone today an attentive audience and an invaluable opportunity to engage and to lead. Every year, the world throws away 150 billion dollars' worth of single-use packaging materials. A sizeable reward awaits the innovator, and this is a leadership opportunity for Canadian industry.
I'd like to suggest that Canada can take advantage of opportunities in the following key areas.
Number one is innovation and collaboration. If we are to effectively tackle this problem, we'll need to identify the sources of plastics in the ocean so as to be able to track those back to source. This understanding is key to engaging the public, the private sector and waste management agencies, and it will support green design, source control, recycling and regulations.
Number two is expert advice. Science is needed to support the identification of solutions. This includes the application of engineering technologies and designs. Our approach at Ocean Wise has been to establish partnerships with industry and government to identify and facilitate solution-oriented opportunities. These include our microfibre partnership with apparel retailers, the hosting of stakeholder workshops, participation in G7 discussions in support of the ocean plastics charter, and invited presentations across Canada and around the world.
Number three is education and engagement. If we are to solve the plastic pollution crisis, we'll need to arm Canadians with a better understanding of the topic. Engaging Canadians of all walks of life should be a very high priority. We designed our plastic wise program with this in mind. Plastic wise was designed to reach millions of people in Canada and around the world through our Vancouver Aquarium exhibits, our digital stories and online content, our media interactions, and through lectures, panels and workshops.
I put it to you that the time is right. We have an audience. Canadians are waiting, and never in my career as a pollution expert have I encountered such a desire for answers, such an appetite for positive change and such an expression of interest from virtually every sector in society.
Canada can help with a cohesive, forward-looking approach that nurtures scientific discovery, industrial innovation, best practices, green design and a circular approach to the plastic economy. Plastic is not the only threat to the world's oceans, but it is a significant one. The plastic pollution crisis offers us a chance for creativity, discovery and innovation.
Thank you for your time.