Richmond non-profit repurposes ocean plastics

The plastics floating deep in the ocean and ending up on Vancouver’s shores are being remade into benches, planters and other items. Monika Gul reports.

A Richmond non-profit is turning plastics recovered from the ocean and shoreline clean-ups and repurposing them into useable, everyday items, like furniture.

Partnering with an Alberta-based company, Ocean Legacy Foundation says the products it is making using the plastics it recovers, are part of the solution to what it calls, “the ocean pollution crisis.”

“To get any plastic out of the ocean, is a lot of time, energy, cost, equipment, efforts,” Co-Founder James Middleton told CityNews. “We’re literally talking about – at least on our coast – thousands of tons of material that are washing up on the shore annually but we’re only able to get hundreds of tons off cause we just have a massive coastline to deal with.”

Ocean Legacy Foundation co-founder James Middleton

Ocean Legacy Foundation co-founder James Middleton. His NGO looks to repurpose ocean plastics into everyday items. (CityNews Image

Middleton says the company is “doing the best” it can, considering the sheer amount of waste there is in the ocean.

Juan Jose Alava, the principal investigator at the Ocean Pollution Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, says there are about “five to 15 million trillions of pieces of plastics floating in the ocean.”

“And in the bottom of the ocean, we have like 2 million pieces per square metre,” he said.

A pile of plastics that were removed from the ocean

There is estimated to be trillions of pieces of plastic in oceans around the world, which experts say pose risks to wildlife that eat them. (CityNews Image)

Alava says Ocean Legacy’s effort to reduce plastic waste in the ocean is “noble.”

“We know it’s not enough but at least this is some exemplary activity that other companies, other NGOs can learn from,” he said.

Ocean Wide President and CEO Lasse Gustavsson says it’s incredibly destructive when birds, dolphins, whales, turtles, and other marine life die when they eat plastics.

“They eat plastics because they mistake it for their food. If you’re a turtle and you see a transparent plastic bag, it looks like a jellyfish,” he explained.

He says upcycling ocean plastic into usable products is a good emergency solution but adds we need to reduce what he calls “our addiction” to plastic to stop the pollution, which he believes is escalating.

“If we continue like we do now, we will have three times as much plastic production on the plant in 40 years, which means almost half a ton per Canadian a year,” he said.

A couch that was built using plastics by the Ocean Legacy Foundation

A couch that was built using ocean plastics by the Ocean Legacy Foundation. (CityNews Image)

Middleton says he knows Ocean Legacy’s products aren’t a perfect solution, but says they’re doing the best with what they got — because there’s too much waste out there.

“This is a very tangible thing to do to create an economy of effort to go and do something very real, to be able to draw it out of the environment and get it off of our coastlines and get it out of the ocean.”

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