Percentage of single-use food packaging litter nearly doubled during COVID-19, report finds

Our COVID-19 buying, eating and PPE habits are showing up on Canada’s shorelines

VANCOUVER, June 9, 2021 – COVID-19 has changed so much in our lives, including how we litter. The proportion of single-use food packaging litter found on Canadian shorelines nearly doubled last year, according to Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s annual “Dirty Dozen” report.

“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,” says Julia Wakeling, outreach specialist for Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, a conservation partnership of Ocean Wise and World Wildlife Fund Canada. “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.”

Also of note: for the first time in Shoreline Cleanup’s 27-year history, volunteers reported finding masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) on their cleanups. “We didn’t have a category on our data cards last year to formally track the amount of PPE-related litter volunteers were finding, but we have added one for 2021,” adds Wakeling. “This year’s results will be very interesting.”

At every Shoreline Cleanup, volunteers use an official data card to collect citizen science data about the litter they pick up. Cigarette butts once again topped Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of most commonly found litter in Canada.


When breaking down the data by type of litter, the proportion of single-use food and beverage items — which includes things like food wrappers, beverage cans, bottle caps, plastic bottles, coffee cups and straws from the list above — saw a dramatic increase.

With cleanups suspended for four months, and then limited to solo and single-household events, Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup saw a 70 per cent drop in participation in 2020. Some 15,000 people removed over 41,000 kgs of litter from Canadian shorelines in 2020 compared to 83,815 volunteers and 163,505 kilograms in 2019. Armed with COVID-safe cleanup guidelines, Shoreline Cleanup hopes to make up for lost numbers in 2021 and encourages all Canadians to organize or participate in a physically distanced cleanup.

“Pollution, especially plastic pollution, is one of the greatest threats facing our ocean, but it is a threat we can tackle together. We all have a part to play” adds Lasse Gustavsson, president and CEO of Ocean Wise. “Plastic has become omnipresent in our daily lives and yet each decision we make at work, at home, at school or out and about, has the potential to have a positive impact.”

“Fish, birds, turtles and other wildlife can mistake litter and plastic for food or become entangled,” says Megan Leslie, WWF-Canada’s president and CEO. “Every piece of garbage we remove from our freshwater and marine shorelines is one less piece that can harm wildlife. We are so grateful to all of our Shoreline Cleanup volunteers for their efforts to protect wildlife habitat and hope all Canadians will join us this year in taking action to help nature thrive.”


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Visit here to read Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s 2020 annual report.


Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup®

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited and Coca-Cola Ltd., is one of the largest direct-action conservation programs in Canada. A conservation partnership by Ocean Wise and WWF-Canada, Shoreline Cleanup aims to promote understanding of shoreline litter issues by engaging Canadians to rehabilitate shoreline areas through cleanups.

Ocean Wise®

Ocean Wise is a globally focused conservation organization with the vision of a world in which oceans are healthy and flourishing. We’re focused on tackling three major ocean challenges: overfishing, ocean pollution and climate change through research, education and direct-action conservation programs. Ocean Wise’s Plastic Free Oceans initiative seeks to rid the ocean of harmful plastic through programs including Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, the Microfiber Partnership, the Plastic Wise Pledge and the Plastic Reduction Program aimed at restaurants and food service businesses. Ocean Wise is based in Vancouver with staff and initiatives across Canada.

World Wildlife Fund Canada 

WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife.

Loblaw Companies Limited

Loblaw Companies Limited is the nation’s largest retailer, providing Canadians with grocery, pharmacy, health and beauty, apparel, general merchandise, financial services, and wireless mobile products and services.

Coca-Cola in Canada

Coca-Cola Canada is a total beverage company and our company’s purpose is to refresh the world and make a difference. In Canada our portfolio of sparkling soft drink brands includes Coca-Cola, Sprite and Fanta. Our hydration, sports, coffee and tea brands include Dasani, smartwater, vitaminwater, Powerade, Gold Peak, and Honest. Our nutrition, juice, dairy and plant-based beverage brands include Minute Maid, Simply, and fairlife. We’re constantly transforming our portfolio, from reducing sugar in our drinks to bringing innovative new products to market. We seek to positively impact people’s lives, communities and the planet through water replenishment, packaging recycling, sustainable sourcing practices and carbon emissions reductions across our value chain. Together with our bottling partner, we employ more than 6,000 people, helping bring economic opportunity to local communities across Canada. Learn more at and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

For more information, please contact

Benjamin Aube
Ocean Wise
[email protected]

Emily Vandermeer, communications specialist
[email protected]