Rise Above Plastics
Our Rise Above Plastics (RAP) program advocates for a reduction in single-use plastics and provides hands-on opportunities for the community to tackle the problem.
What The Issue?
Plastic pollution is one of the most talked about environmental issues of all time - rivalling the likes of climate change when coming to severe environmental threats. This is largely due to the fact that we can see the issue with our own eyes - we see the cause of plastic pollution, and we know the answer. We created it, after all. A revolutionary material that helped form the modern world we know today. We lived without plastic for tens of thousands of years, relying on earth-friendly materials such as paper, wood, metal and glass to suit our needs. In the space of only <150 years, plastics have replaced many of these materials due their cheap and fast manufacturing capabilities.
Many of us are now making the link between our own daily actions and the resulting plastic catastrophe. We can watch plastic bottles catch better waves than the worlds best surfers - making us rethink whether to carry around a reusable water bottle. The solution seems simple enough - but how easy will it really be?
How Does Plastic Enter The Ocean?
Plastic that ends up in the ocean starts out on land - where it’s created. Obvious stuff. What’s not obvious is that this trash isn’t just dumped right into the ocean as most people imagine, or tossed aside on a beach to be picked up and carried out to sea. Most plastic ends up in the ocean from inland sources - rivers, streams and creeks. For example, when it rains, the rainwater washes the dirt from our streets and sidewalks and flows down storm drains, taking everything with it. Food wrappers, cigarette butts, bottle caps and much more, are washed down the drains and head straight into local waterways.
All rivers lead to the ocean, in some way or another.
Why Is Plastic In The Ocean So Bad?
After plastics enter the ocean, they slowly over many years break down into smaller and smaller pieces (becoming micro-plastics and even nano-plastics) that mammals and fish can mistake for food. Microplastics are even being eaten by plankton, which are the foundation of the marine food chain. Whatever the plankton eat, the fish eat. We eat.
Microplastics are a serious threat to ecosystems and human health because of their ability to absorb and concentrate persistent organic pollutants (POPs) including PCBs, DDT and other harmful toxins. Plastics have been found to continue absorbing these toxins even after 3.5 years.
The bodies of whales, seabirds, dolphins and turtles have been found with mass amounts of large plastic pieces in their stomachs, causing starvation from the inability to digest food. Nearly 700 species are known to have been affected by plastic in the ocean. And if the plastic isn’t being ingested by marine life, ocean currents are concentrating plastic pollution into ‘gyres’ in five main areas of the world’s ocean.
What Can We Do About It?
Take a look around you right now - how many things contain plastic? Your clothes (polyester), your phone (polycarbonate resin), even your glasses nosepiece or hair tie (silicone) are made of the stuff. And that’s just on you. Plastic doesn’t only comprise the obvious items like straws and water bottles - it’s in our cars and even our face scrubs.
If it’s all around us, where do we start?
It’s not about trying to tackle the overall picture for now. We can only control the plastic we use and discard on a daily basis. Let’s take a look at the most commonly found items in the ocean, from the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup day from the Ocean Conservancy:
Top 10 Plastic Items In The Ocean In 2018:
Plastic Drink Bottles
Plastic Bottle Caps
Plastic Grocery Bags
Other Plastic Bags
Straws and Stirrers
Plastic Take Out Containers
Foam Take Out Containers
If you’re feeling a twinge of guilt at the fact that your groceries are currently sitting in a plastic bag, or your take-out last night came in more plastic boxes than you could build a house with - don’t worry. We’re all guilty of using a number of these items on a daily basis, sometimes even the most environmentally conscious of us. At the level of convenience that single-use plastic offers us, sometimes practicality wins us over and we grab that plastic bottle of water with a dry mouth and guilty heart.
Thankfully, there are now endless environmentally friendly solutions to all of these types of plastic waste.
Four Easy Changes You Can Make Today That Will Genuinely Make A Difference:
Carry a reusable water bottle - and fill it. Sometimes drinking water taps aren’t always nearby, so make sure to fill your bottle before setting out to avoid buying bottled water.
Store some cloth bags in your home, handbag and car. Cotton and linen bags are friendly alternatives to plastic grocery bags - but make sure you always have them around. One in the car, one at home, one in your day bag, so you can’t forget one.
Stub your cigarette butts in designated cigarette bins. Cigarette filters contain both plastic and harmful carcinogenics. Sadly, flicking your butt onto the sidewalk Danny Zuko style has been glamourized thanks to 80s cinema, and it’s become an acceptable form of littering. By using designated cigarette bins, we can avoid filters being swept away into drain systems and out into the ocean.
Refuse single-use cups, utensils and containers. If you’re feeling like take-out, inform the restaurant that you don’t want your food to come in plastic boxes. Try and bring your own tupperware, or ask if they have any alternatives. If everyone did this, chances are they’ll start to rethink their ways.
Join a Beach Clean in Vancouver
We host cleanups at Vancouver's local beaches. Beach cleanups are free to attend and open to everyone, and you’ll be removing plastics from the shoreline that would otherwise end up back in the ocean.
Visit our events calendar page on EventBrite for details on upcoming beach cleanups and other chapter events.