St. Catharines environmentalists advocate for circular economy
Water bottles, sports equipment and hundreds of cigarette butts.
These are just a few of the things Tim Bala has found along the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie over the years.
His Paddle Niagara paddleboard and kayak business has been around for 10 years, and Bala has been organizing cleanups along the shores of Lake Ontario during that time.
While he doesn’t think the pollution in the lakes has gotten any worse during this time, he said it hasn’t improved.
“There is definitely more awareness, but not much has changed,” he said.
A new report and action plan from the Council of the Great Lakes Region supports this.
The report says that 80% of the trash dumped on the shores of the Great Lakes is plastic.
“To further highlight the problem of plastic waste and pollution, between 2015 and 2020, more than 4.8 million plastic parts were collected during volunteer beach and waterway clean-ups, cigarette butts and with plastic food and beverage containers being the most commonly collected items,” the report said.
According to the report, pollution not only affects wildlife when they accidentally consume these plastics (a 2021 study by the Society of Conservation Biology found that a single fish from Lake Ontario can contain up to 915 plastic microparticles), but also affects the drinking water for some 40 million Canadians and Americans.
The report outlines a five-year action plan to reduce waste in the Great Lakes and focus on a circular economy.
“Plastic is a versatile material that is widely used in our industries and our homes as consumers, but it should never become waste in our economy or waste in our environment,” said Mark Fisher, president and CEO of the leadership of the Council of the Great Lakes Region. “Through the Circular Great Lakes initiative, we are bringing together leaders from business, government, academia and NGOs to drive and implement the systems change needed to close the loop and accelerate the transition to a circular for plastics in this critical region of the U.S. and Canada.
The report also outlines three strategic priorities: cleaning up and preventing plastic trash and waste from entering the Great Lakes watershed, accelerating the development of plastic packaging recycling supply chains and markets, and achieving a radical change in the quantity and quality of plastics recycling through policies, consumer behavior and investments in advanced infrastructure and technologies.
Mike Anderson has lived in St. Catharines most of his life and agreed with Bala that lake pollution is nothing new.
“It’s no secret that plastic waste and pollution are serious problems in the Great Lakes,” he said. “They have been polluted with plastic debris for decades. I mean, it probably dates back to the beginning of mass production of plastics in North America. »
Anderson is the president of the new St. Catharines Environmental Alliance. The group is made up of environmental activists between the ages of 19 and 75 and regularly take part in cleaning up trash in the city.
Anderson hopes the report will inspire positive change.
“I think the two biggest things they have to overcome is that it doesn’t come cheap with the need for plastic-specific recovery or recovery facilities that can reprocess this waste,” he said. . “Then the other part of the conversation is, how can we reduce our reliance on certain plastics and when and where does that make sense?”
The Government of Canada is also tackling this problem by announcing on June 22 its plan to ban the manufacture, import, sale and possibly export of many single-use plastics such as checkout bags, cutlery , stir sticks, etc.
For Bala, he said he would continue to organize beach cleanups.
“All we can really do is go down and do these cleanups and try to make the area that we value on the waterfront (beautiful),” he said.
The five Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system in the world, containing about 21% of the world’s surface freshwater and 84% of North America.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY — After reading the Great Lakes Region Council’s report and action plan, reporter Abby Green wanted to speak with activists in St. Catharines about their experiences with lake pollution.