Vancouver Island group cleaning 90 tonnes of coastal garbage in 90 days
A B.C. group that had the goal of cleaning up 90 tonnes of debris in 90 days is well on track with their efforts, but was shocked this week at just how much garbage they are actually coming across.
"The volume of what we’ve seen caught us off guard a little bit," said Bill Coltart, president of the Campbell River Association of Tour Operators.
"I think we’re seeing much more Styrofoam, very large volumes of debris, rope, so I think we were caught off guard with what we’re seeing out there," he said.
The Vancouver Island-based tour operators have received provincial government funding through the Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative to keep themselves busy past the end of their regular season. The funding is also used to hire several Indigenous and local young people.
"So far we’ve got about a dozen youth on the project on a given day, out in, as you can see, all kinds of weather," said Coltart. "So whether it’s snowing out or it’s blowing 40 knots, they’re out and they’re quite happy to be doing it because they’re making a real significant impact on the coastline."
The organization began collecting debris in early September, and so far it's cleaned 350 kilometres of coastline. Staff split their week between collecting the items and then sorting and recycling them.
"Once a week we’ll spend a half day or three-quarters of a day sorting debris into different categories – recyclables and a small amount of non-recyclables," said Coltart.
"The recyclable materials will go off for the most part to Ocean Legacy’s facility in Vancouver to be turned into other re-usable products."
For employees like Cassandra Francis, it has been a valuable and fulfilling experience.
"This is actually my first time doing something like this and it feels really amazing, not only for the community but also for the environment," Francis told CTV News.
Nathan Harder’s job is sawing contaminated portions off of Styrofoam blocks so the rest of it can be recycled.
"Ninety per cent of it is coming off of docks and big floats," he said. "Most of it was covered in glue that we’re having to chop off. We’re sawing it with big saws and chop saws as well. It’s been pretty good."
The local man says each of his co-workers shares similar satisfaction in what they are accomplishing.
"We’re seeing beaches that look like snow – just everywhere as far as you can see on these beaches – just covered in Styrofoam," said Harder.
"(It's) all from these docks, all from these floats that have probably been there for 20-plus years, just getting pulverized by the stones and the wood and the storms coming through."
On Monday, North Island MLA Michelle Babchuck toured the group’s sorting facility.
"I think this is fantastic," she said. "This is a great example of resilience as the Campbell River Association of Tour Operators has pivoted from the lack of the tourism opportunity to looking at giving youth a whole bunch of employment and cleaning up miles and miles of coast."
The Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative is funded by the provincial government, not the federal government as erroneously stated in an earlier version of this article.