The Water Brothers show how to make a difference at the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

Written by Alex Mifflin, The Water Brothers and WWF Water Ambassador 
Every September, my brother Tyler and I, participate in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. It has become an important annual ritual for us. It’s very special to be part of a group of thousands of dedicated Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast that commit themselves to such a great cause.

© The Water Brothers
© The Water Brothers

Picking up garbage might not seem like everyone’s idea of a perfect start to the weekend, but shoreline cleanups are actually a lot of fun! Not only do you get to meet like-minded people who are committed to keeping our beaches and shorelines clean, but also, you really can make a big difference by preventing plastic on our shorelines from ending up somewhere much worse.
Just a few months ago, we participated in a shoreline cleanup at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto and explored parts of our shoreline we had never even seen before. Unfortunately, even on the stretches of shoreline where people rarely visit, we were shocked to see the amounts of garbage that had washed on shore, especially plastic.
Alex (left) and Tyler (right) find a plastic bottle during a cleanup event. © The Water Brothers
Alex (left) and Tyler (right) find a plastic water bottle and a plastic lid during a cleanup event. © The Water Brothers

Many of us have heard about places like The Great Pacific Garbage Patch but the reality of our plastic pollution problem is much more disturbing than a trash island. Scientists estimate that an average of 18,000 pieces of plastic are floating in every square kilometer of ocean, not just in the gyres and garbage patches that get the most media attention.
Unfortunately, once plastic enters the ocean it doesn’t biodegrade. Sunlight and waves slowly break plastic down into smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes small enough to be eaten by just about any type of marine life from zooplankton to whales. Plastic debris has been documented to cause harm to 660 different marine species. One recent study estimated that as many as nine out of ten seabirds today have ingested plastic. At the current pace, researchers estimate that 99 per cent of all seabirds will have plastic debris in their gut by 2050, compared to 5 per cent in 1960 – clearly very concerning.
When plastic breaks down into such small pieces, it doesn’t just look like food for marine life, it is also extremely difficult to clean up which is why it is so critical to do everything we can to prevent it from entering our lakes, rivers and oceans in the first place.
Pieces of plastic collected from the shores of Lake Ontario. © The Water Brothers
Pieces of plastic collected from the shores of Lake Ontario. © The Water Brothers

If we want to really solve this problem we need to stop the flow of plastic at the source by consuming less single-use disposable plastic and forcing producers to be responsible for the waste they create. This change will take some time. In our fast-paced consumer society, plastic waste is ubiquitous and billions of people from 192 different coastal nations are now contributing to this problem. A recent study estimated that more than 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the oceans from land each year, and that figure could be as high as 12.7 million metric tons.
When faced with these daunting statistics, it may not seem like picking up some plastic straws and lighters will make a big difference, until you see what one small straw or lighter can do to beautiful creatures like sea turtles.
Every time we pick up a piece of plastic on the shoreline, we know we could be preventing a seabird, turtle or fish from ingesting that plastic that might have caused it to die. While the ultimate solutions to our plastic waste problem will take some time to unfold, we can do some simple things about it right now.
That solution can start by reducing your own consumption of single-use disposable plastic at home and by volunteering just a few hours of your time on to join a Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup event near you! We promise you’ll have fun, and feel good about it too! On September 19, we’ll be at Woodbine Beach Park in Toronto doing out part. Hope to see you there.
To learn more, watch The Water Brothers on their sailing expedition to the centre of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in their episode Plastic Ocean.