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“My imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people.”

Patricia Highsmith

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ECO Delights' Blog

Things worth talking about

Wasted: Part 2

July 29,2017

The Community Engagement Director, from the “Story of Stuff Project”, Allison Cook, sailed from Bermuda to Iceland to study some of the pollution in our oceans. She describes that the first failure of her imagination was of what to expect, as it was far more than she had anticipated, and she writes that she found herself surprised at her own surprise. Reason being, is that she thought she understood the scope of the problem only to find that the amount was overwhelmingly more than she had anticipated. According to Cook, every sample collected was “riddled with plastic.”

Margo McDiarmid, an environmental reporter for CBC, discusses the plastic problem in her article Plastics dumped in world's oceans estimated at 8M tonnes annually. She describes how research indicates the enormity of the plastic issue and the amount finding its way into the world’s oceans and waterways. McDiarmid examines a study published, in the Journal, Science, which estimated “that 4-12 million tonnes of plastic is dumped every year by coastal countries.” Ronald Geyer, an associate professor at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, and coauthor of the report, stated that there “is an enormous, staggering amount of material that we believe might be entering the ocean every year." McDiarmid goes on to discuss the garbage found on Haiti’s beaches and recalls on study from scientists at the University of California- Santa Barbara explaining,  “Plastics, such as this garbage scattered along a beach in Haiti, are polluting the world's oceans at an alarming rate.”

McDiarmid goes on to say that scientists have realized this enormous problem since the 1970s, when the plastic debris from land began to be carried by ocean currents to create floating islands of garbage in many, if not all, of the world’s oceans. Further studies indicate that about “eight million tonnes of plastic,” from water bottle to garbage bags to food packaging is improperly disposed of. To understand what this plastic would look like Geyer suggests that "If you spread it out on the ground, eight million (tonnes) would be enough plastic waste to cover 34 times the area of Manhattan ankle-deep in un-compacted plastic waste.”

The scientists at the University of California’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, examined 192 coastal counties in 2010 and looked at how each disposed of their plastic. Their study found that “20 countries were responsible for 83 per cent of the litter, or so called "mismanaged plastic."” Though Canada didn’t make it on the list, which is likely due to its low population density, China was first on the list, with many other Eastern and southern countries following close behind, and the United States came in as the 20th worst offender. According to McDiarmid, Geyer suggests that this discrepancy, in garbage compared to country development, is associated with southern and eastern developing country’s economies growing faster than their ability to handle their garbage, which is being primarily produced by the middle class in polluting countries. As Geyer states, “as economies develop, typically what we see is [the amount of plastic in] their solid-waste generation …increases …but at the same time they're still lacking the infrastructure to make sure this waste doesn't move around and end up in the environment."”

Research indicates that the plastic entering waterways is often blown out of overflowing garbage dumps and becomes entangled in estuaries and rivers, where it is carried by the currents into the coastal systems. Often, random plastic can be found dumped along roadways and beaches and coastlines, both nationally and internationally. And to understand the real scope of the issue, we must examine the United States score of 20th worst offender. Even though this country participates in recycling and garbage collection it made it onto the ‘worst list’. This is likely due to there being a large amount of waste that is not being acknowledged and mismanaged, and the U.S has a high per/capital consumption waste generation. Therefore, reducing the amount of garbage generated, and by diverting the waste that is generated, will require a massive response. The study found that in order “to achieve a 75 per cent reduction in the mass of mismanaged plastic waste, waste management would have to be improved by 85 per cent in the 35 top-ranked countries.”

A blogger, Chris Mooney, at the, discusses a study Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea, published in the journal PLOS One, by Marcus Eriksen of the Five Gyres Institute, in Los Angeles. According to the study, the world’s oceans reveal that there are over 5 trillion pieces plastic, weighing in at more than 250 000 tons, floating in them. Using these values, it is estimated that with 7.2 billion people in the world – this represents 700 pieces per person. The Five Gyres Institute conducted 24 oceanic missions between 2007 and 2013 to take samples of the plastic pollution. Plastic was observed from boat decks and in nets in 1571 locations. They used this data to create a model to simulate potential distribution of the plastic debris in the ocean. "What we are witnessing in the global ocean is a growing threat of toxin-laden microplastics cycling through the entire marine ecosystem," commented Eriksen, the lead study author.

Eriksen stresses that there is a potentially massive amount of plastic on shorelines, in sea-beds and suspended in the water column, and that their numbers are really highly conservative. To look at it for what it is, we can look to the trade group Plastics Europe who says that there are 288 million tons of plastic produced every year. So comparatively, the 250 000 tons, described in the Eriksen’s study, actually represents about 0.1% of the world’s annual plastic production. Meanwhile, in response to this study, the American Chemistry Council has suggested, that this just proves the importance of recycling plastics. “America’s plastics makers wholeheartedly agree that littered plastics of any kind do not belong in the marine environment," the American Chemistry Council statement read in part: “Even after plastics have fulfilled their initial purpose, these materials should be treated as valuable resources and recycled whenever possible or recovered for their energy value when they cannot.”

As the Council explains, the plastics get in the waterways because we put them there, due to waste mismanagement. Many of us do not see or care where our waste goes once it leaves our hands, or responsibility; we don’t see the “what happens next?” We must ask ourselves, how does it end up in the oceans? We know that some plastic is deliberately dumped in the ocean, and some is runoff or blow around that originated in dumps or landfills; additional issues are the water and the winds ability to aid plastics to make their way into all of our terrestrial and aquatic environments. The council discusses the issue of microplastics, caused by the continuous breakdown of the plastics into smaller and smaller pieces, which are small enough for plankton to eat, making their way up the food chain, from the very bottom to the very top.

The American Chemistry Council discusses the five major gyres of garbage on the planet, all of which have high concentrations of plastic. They instruct that the ecological consequences are stark. Marine animals not only become entangled, they believe these floating pieces of debris are food. So, when you stop and think about it, we really aren’t finished with our plastics, once they leave our hands, we may consume them again for supper another day! Eriksen proposes that it is imperative to start a 100% recovery plan; as he states, “the status quo, is no longer acceptable.”

Because plastic is not biodegradable, it persists for a long time in the environment, only breaking down to smaller and smaller pieces, but is never really broken down into simple compounds that could be harmlessly absorbed back into the environment. Unfortunately, it can also turn into a toxic substance, which not only damages ecosystems, such as clogging waterways, but can have terrible effects on organisms that come in contact with it and/or ingest it.

Microbeads are one of today’s product nuisances. These microscopic beads are used in exfoliants, such as personal care products and facial cleansers, body washes, and toothpaste. These particles are rinsed down the drain and enter the aquatic environment through wastewater treatment plants which are not designed to remove these pesky plastic pieces, typically they are dumped into rivers, lakes and some make their way to salt water environments. A recent study found that a single tube of facial scrub could “contain more than 330 000 microbeads.” These dangerous beads are toxic to marine and aquatic environments as they are ingested by multiple organisms, including the smallest planktons to the biggest marine mammals such as whales. These plastics carry chemicals and contaminants such as PCBs and flame retardants, accumulating in species along the food chain. With the highest species in the chain carrying the most toxins, which are typically humans due to our varied, carnivorous appetites. Due to the public awareness of the issue, a number of product manufacturers intend to phase them out of production or replace them with biodegradable alternatives. Valid alternatives include apricot kernels and jojoba beads, which are already widely available. There is a growing concern in the United States regarding the microbead, and a number of States, including Illinois, New Jersey, have enacted legislation, and Ohio, New York, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, Maine and Washington State are considering similar policies. 

However, Canada is not making the same progress and the only introduction has been a “private member’s bill to ban the manufacture and addition of microbeads to consumer products in Ontario”, even though it is known that the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water to 8.5 million Canadians, microbeads make up about 20 percent of the plastic debris in the Lakes. The highest concentration of plastics are usually near urban centres. Even though this information is known, a number of products are still sold in Canada, containing this unnecessary plastic waste. 

According to CBC, researchers have discovered that the microbeads are sinking to the bottom of the water column and accumulating at the bottom. Researchers indicated that these tiny beads are ending up in “guts of aquatic animals and in our beer.” And, not in the too distant past, the New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, signed legislation banning their manufacture and sale in that state. Illinois has also invoked a ban and other states are reviewing similar measures to help control the problem. According to CBC, Health Canada reports them safe for use in cosmetics and food, but environmental groups insist that the microbeads become a problem “when they are washed down the drain.”

CBC News, Technology reported that Colin Carrie, once the Parliamentary Secretary to then Environment Minister, Leona Aglukkaq, that Environment Canada was analyzing the dangers posed by plastic microbeads. The intention of the study was to determine what action plan is going to be required to control the tiny substances. McGill University released information last year that there is “alarming quantities of microbeads in the St. Lawrence River” The New Democrat Party (NDP) had motioned to call for a ban on them as they are too small to be captured by water treatment plants. The NDP has put forth the motion that the federal government list them “as a potential toxic substance.” The NDP hope that through “classifying microbeads as a classifying microbeads as a "toxic substance" under the Environmental Protection Act…would give the federal government the authority to control their use, including banning them in consumer products.”

There is no denying that it is time for Canadians to address the threat of these products and others. The Environmental Defence team, the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, the Ottawa River Waterkeeper, with the help of Ecojustice Lawyer, Tanya Nayler, had submitted a request to Leona Aglukkaq, then Minister of Environment, to ask that microbeads be added to the “Priority Substances” list so that they may be designated and regulated as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

In February of 2015, Oliver Milman, an Environmental Reporter for the Guardian, wrote an article about a study, conducted by the Australian Research Council (ARC) about corals, like those found on the Great Barrier Reef, and how they are threatened by an “estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic, with a collective weight of nearly 270 000 tonnes, currently floating in the world’s oceans. Milman explains that “according to the ARC centre of excellence for coral reef studies, at James Cook University, these microplastics (plastics measuring under 5 mm in diameter) are being ingested “at the same rate by the coral as their normal food.” The study further advises that these small plastic particles are entering the coral gut cavity tissue and the coral are unable to expel the fragments.

Milman explains, that one researcher, Dr. Mia Hoogenboom, who coauthored the study, Microplastic ingestion by scleractinian corals said that a coral is a filter feeder and will filter particles (zooplankton) out of the water; and goes on to explain, how “corals are not very selective in what they eat….we know in other animals that plastics block feeding activities, as well as soak up toxins. It’s quite worrying and it’s a reminder that we can manage this kind of stress on the reef at a local level, as well as looking at larger challenges such as climate change.” The Dr. added that this process is a very slow starvation as the creatures stomachs become overloaded with plastic debris, she also recommends clearing plastic pollution from waterways, such as beaches, coastal areas, and rivers, as it has become a global issue.


Cook, A. (n.d.). A Big Ocean Plastics Problem… And The Huge Imagination to Overcome It. Story of Stuff Project . Retrieved from

Hall, N., Berry, K. L., & Rintoul, L. (2015, January 19). Microplastic ingestion by scleractinian corals. Springer(Mar Bio). Retrieved from

MacDonald, E., Podolsky, L., & Nayler, T. (n.d.). Microbeads add up to big problem for Great Lakes. EcoJustice(People and Health), 2015. Retrieved from

McDiarmid, M. (2015, February 12). Plastics dumped in world's oceans estimated at 8M tonnes annually. CBC News Politics. Retrieved from

Milman, O. (2015, February 2015). Corals face 'slow starvation' from ingesting plastics pollution, experts find. Environment. Retrieved from

Mooney, C. (2015, December 10). Good job, humans: The oceans now contain 5 trillion pieces of floating plastic. p. Blog. Retrieved from

Shim, E. (2014, May 7). Harvard Scientists May Have Just Solved One of the Biggest Environmental Issues of Our Time. Retrieved from

The Canadian Press. (2015, March 25). Plastic microbead dangers studied by Environment Canada. CBC News Technology. Retrieved from

Wasted: Part 1

July 14, 2017

"7 Days of Garbage,” is a series of photos, taken by Gregg Segal, where American families are surrounded by a week’s worth of their own trash. Segal produced the images to allow people to think about their role and understand that they play a part in generating this waste; but he goes on to suggest that we all feel so frustrated as we are “just small cogs in a huge machine.“ It isn’t that we want all this packaging he proposes, but it takes a pretty proactive person to avoid it. He defines us as feeling frustrated, as we feel we have no choice, or can do little about how much packaging is produced and how much we must reluctantly accept when we purchase goods.

According to Segal, the average American produces about 4 pounds (2 kg) of garbage per day, and collectively produces millions of tonnes of trash weekly, this adds up to 220 million tons annually. Segal suggests that there is food waste, but most of the problem stems from plastic packaging, with much of it is designated to be recycled. However, as he comments, although we often throw things in the recycle bin, it isn’t necessarily recycled. Most times, it is not cost effective to recycle the plastic due to the amount of energy it takes to melt it down and reform it. And, according to Millions of Tons of Plastic in Oceans, More Scientists Studying Impact, by Laura Parker, that number is only increasing, and she expects the amount of global trash to continue to rise into the next century. 

Segal points to the number of steps that humanity can take to reduce its waste, which include: reducing the number of children; valuing the commons; respecting water; bottling your own water; buying vegetables that are not in their prime all the while, trying to maintain sustainable consumption habits in order to reduce waste. He speaks of a story he wrote for Time Magazine, about people who make it their life mission to produce zero waste, and at the end of a given year will have a mason jar full of their annual garbage. Segal states that he takes his pictures so that he can hold up the mirror and ask us to “look at ourselves.” He maintains that we are sleepwalking, that we don’t see what we are doing and not really aware of our effect on this planet, and hopes that his pictures can help give us a “wake-up call.”

Laura Parker suggests that “with no intervention, the growing garbage heap won’t even peak by 2021.” She sites her information from the scientists from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), who estimate that we will be dealing with a million tons of plastics that could cause yet unknown problems as it enters aquatic and terrestrial environments, nor do we understand the possibility of the complications to organisms affected. It is thought that the hazard the plastics pose could be compared to the scope of which climate change could affect habitats, with the public perception differing somewhat as people can actually witness garbage, while climate change seems like a vague, remote issue to many.

According to Parker, the extent of our trash came under scrutiny when the fated Malaysian jet went missing in March of 2014; numerous satellite imagery revealed multiple images of floating debris, none of it being that of the Boeing 777. The damage caused by this debris has created an entirely new field of study, as the issue has become so complex. Scientists like Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia, examine numerous issues that can range from plastic toxicity to the politics and economics of solid waste management of developing nations. As Parker mentions, “seafarers have known for decades that the oceans are trash dumps, the ultimate sinkholes for all global garbage.”

To date, 136 species of marine species have been found entangled with debris. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this first became understood in 1944, when the northern seals were turning up with rubber “collars” originating from the “remains of Japanese food-drop bags from the Aleutian campaign in World War II.” However, NOAA suggests, the marine garbage is only a decade or so old; and the Marine Debris Program was not launched until 2006. According to Jambeck, the defining moment came when Scientists realized that the oceanic debris did not just consist of cloth, wood and ceramics, but mostly plastic, and with most of that being microplastics. As Jambeck explains, when plastic began to be eaten by marine life we started playing a “whole new ballgame.” Jambeck’s research team plan to provide new annual, more accurate estimates of how much garbage is produced and how much of that garbage comes from developing countries lacking collection and recycling systems, and how much waste is produced by developed countries. As she states, “All of that trash has the potential to reach the oceans.”


Goldberg, E. (2014, July 25). Eye-Opening Photos of People Surrounded by a Week's Worth of Their Own Trash. Retrieved from

Parker, L. (2014, June 16). With Millions of Tons of Plastic in Oceans, More Scientists Studying Impact. Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason and Science. Retrieved from

Wasted: Part Three

January 25, 2018

In the article, Human discards means slow toture for B.C.’s marine mammals, writer Larry Pynn discusses efforts being taken on Long Beach, Vancouver Island, by Marty Haulena, a local Aquarium veterinarian, who is working with the local Stellar Sea Lion population. Marty’s efforts including freeing unfortunate animals from items such as plastic bands and other debris. Plastics are known for their innate ability to injure and more often, fatally wound these and other creatures. Marty’s work can be very risky as a number of issues can arise such as something as simple as slipping on a rock and becoming injured, or issues involved working with large, wild, unpredictable animals, who are already frightened and in distress. Other factors that must be considered are the animal’s wellbeing and the effects of anesthesia, which may contribute to an increased risk of drowning for animals such as the sea lions. However without these stoic efforts, as Haulena comments, “these animals are going to die, based on every survey and photographic evidence we have;” and “they’re going to die in a really bad way.”

This is no easy or cheap rescue either, “crews on the fisheries vessel and a second 8.4-metre chartered inflatable keep tabs on the sea lion and prepare to intervene as necessary, with each expedition costing roughly $2000.00.” Wendy Szaniszlo, an associate researcher, has been helping monitor the sea lions from her base in Ucluelet from 2005 to 2013, she has encountered a total of 620 entanglements off of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, mostly near Barkley Sound. According to Szaniszlo, a more accurate number would be about 335 individuals, as this allows for chances of duplicate sightings. Her findings advise that about “38 per cent of cases involved plastic packing bands. Another 10 per cent involved commercial and sport fishing gear, five per cent rubber bands from crab traps, and for the rest debris was so badly embedded in the animal the type was unrecognizable.”

As vet technician Emily Johnson says, “we’re such a throwaway society.” Solutions to the issue require biodegradable alternatives to plastics and for humanity to take responsibility for their waste, such as ensuring that those six-pack bands are snipped and disposing waste in a sustainable matter. Haulena offered a thought, “We’ve never seen one get entangled. I don’t know if it’s completely random or they start nosing at it and playing with it then it slips on and doesn’t come off. Their hair prevents it from coming off at first, then as they grow it digs in and has a cutting action, sawing through the skin. No one’s kidding anyone. Saving one sea lion … with a whole pile of people won’t solve the issue. We need to solve it on the front end, dealing with garbage and materials that won’t affect our animals in this way.”

Haulena discusses the fact that about one to two percent of the sea lion population is affected and the population has been on the rise steadily, by about 4 percent annually, since the 1970s. As such, funding for such a small percentage of the population that is growing may seem like a waste of revenue that may be spent better elsewhere. It really is no longer a conservation issue, however as the women suggest, it is an animal welfare issue, and if it wasn’t for mismanaged waste, that the human populations generate, worldwide, the species wouldn’t need our help.

In March of 2015 a pygmy sperm whale beached at McNabs Island in Halifax Harbour, the animal later died due to the injuries it had received from plastic debris it had been caught up in, cut with, and from the debris it had consumed. A group of veterinarians, and student veterinarians “from P.E.I.'s Atlantic Veterinary College and Dalhousie University’s Biology Department, performed a necropsy.” Plastic had cut the animal’s neck and tail, and plastic was found in its stomach. Plastic included were plastic bags and strapping material, such as those found on boxes of paper or fish bait boxes. The material was ingested and lodged in the animal’s stomach; according to the Tonya Wimmer, the coordinator of the Marine Animal Response Society; there wasn’t even that much plastic in the stomach, yet the animal was killed by the plastic. 

As Lindsey Devers commented, “It was a very interesting learning experience because I didn't know that amount of pollution could hurt a whale” and “I'll definitely be more careful. I always try to do my part and recycle and everything, but now if I see a piece of trash down by the ocean I'll pick it up.” Wimmer said that though sometimes an animal’s death can go undetermined, this was not the case here. As she said, “That’s the thing about plastics in our oceans. They go tremendous distances and these animals are just swimming along. Whether they think it’s food or something and they just grab it and eat it as if it was a squid."

It is known that larger pieces of plastic, such as fishing nets and lines, plastic beer straps, and twine can strangle animals, meanwhile, smaller pieces are eaten by many creatures that habitat the ocean such as fish, whales, corals, shellfish and birds. Not only that, many of these plastics are toxic to animals and humans, some bio-accumulating as they are ingested throughout the food web. As populations grow, it is expected that this problem will only worsen. Currently, only “5% of the world’s drink containers and food containers” are recycled. Another study indicates that in 2010 coastal populations dumped an equivalent of “five full shopping bags of debris for every foot of coastline in the nearly 200 countries surveyed.”

A 2013 study in Australia found “that each square kilometre of Australia’s sea-surface water is contaminated by about 4,000 pieces of tiny plastic.” And these are not the only pressures the reef is facing, there are concerns over coral cover and the rapidly warming and acidifying ocean waters. The federal government has taken steps to help alleviate some of the problem by eliminating the use of the non-biodegradable plastic bags. Greg Hunt, the federal environment minister, said he would be “encouraging” the states to phase out non-biodegradable bags. 


PYNN, L. (2015, March 14). Human discards mean slow torture for B.C.’s marine mammals. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from

Post, H. (2015, March 16). Pygmy Sperm Whale Died In Halifax Harbour After Eating Plastic. Huffington Post Canada. Retrieved from

Milman, O. (2015, February 2015). Corals face 'slow starvation' from ingesting plastics pollution, experts find. Environment. Retrieved from

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