Single-use plastic litter almost doubles during pandemic

© Can Stock Photo / obencem

According to a report by a group that tracks the amount of single-use plastics found along Canada’s shorelines, the amount of single-use plastics discarded has almost doubled.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s annual Dirty Dozen Report says single-use food and beverage litter accounted for more than a quarter of all garbage found.

“We were startled to see that single-use food and beverage litter increased from 15.3 per cent of all litter in 2019 to 26.6 per cent in 2020,” said Outreach Specialist Julia Wakeling. “We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods.”

For the first time in the cleanup’s 27-year history, volunteers also found masks and other personal protective equipment.

“We didn’t have a category on our data cards last year to formally track the amount of PPE-related litter — but we have added one for 2021,” she added.

Shoreline cleanups were suspended for four months during the pandemic. Even afterwards, they were limited to solo and single-household events. The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup witnessed a 70 per cent drop in participation last year.

About 15,000 people did take part, removing over 41,000 kilograms of litter. That compares to 83,815 volunteers in 2019 and 163,505 kilograms.

Pollution, especially plastic pollution, is one of the greatest threats facing our ocean, but it is a threat we can tackle together,” said President and CEO of Ocean Wise, Lasse Gustavsson. “Each decision we make at work, home, at school, or out and about has the potential to make a positive impact.”

© Can Stock Photo / svedoliver

© Can Stock Photo / svedoliver

The organization hopes to boost participation in 2021.

Fish, birds, turtles and other wildlife often mistake litter and plastic for food or become tangled in it.

“Every piece of garbage we remove from our freshwater and marine shorelines is one less piece that can harm wildlife,” Megan Leslie, the president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund Canada, said.

The federal government has proposed legislation to ban six kinds of single-use plastics by 2022, including plastic grocery bags, straws, stir sticks, plastic cutlery, six-pack rings, and some food containers.

Cigarette butts once again topped the group’s Dirty Dozen list of the most commonly found litter in Canada.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is a partnership by Ocean Wise and WWF-Canada and one of the biggest direct-action conservation programs in the country.