Accounting for nearly half of the waste gathering on the Vancouver and Victoria shorelines is waste associated with smoking, according to a recent study from the University of British Columbia.
To reach that conclusion, researchers analyzed data concerning waste collection efforts organized by the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) from over 1,200 clean-up initiatives spanning the coast of British Columbia from 2013 to 2016.
"We found that generally 80 to 90 percent of the litter that's being collected is still plastic waste," said Cassandra Konecny, co-author of the study and master's student in the Department of Zoology and Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC. "We also found that while the amount of trash being collected didn't vary much over time, the type of litter varied by region."
The team classified the different types of waste by source: recreation, smoking, dumping, hygiene products and fishing. Eventually, the waste was also broken down by region from the north coast of British Columbia to the southern Strait of Georgia. Among the most common waste items recovered along that path were cigarettes and filters, plastic pieces, foam pieces and food containers and wrappers.
"In places like the southern Strait of Georgia which includes larger urban areas like Vancouver and Victoria, we see that cigarettes and cigarette filters — which are made of plastic — account for almost 50 percent of litter recovered," said co-author Vanessa Fladmark, a master's student in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC. "On the north coast of B.C., in places like Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert, we see a lot more recreational items like large plastic bottles or plastic bags."
The findings, according to the research, might act as a future guide for waste management approaches across the province.
"While volunteer-led conservation efforts like the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup are great at removing shoreline litter, more needs to be done to actually reduce the amount of litter that ends up in the water or on the coast," said Konecny.
"For example, we've heard a lot recently about banning single-use plastic straws in the City of Vancouver. But if the data shows that smoking is a big issue and mostly we're just picking up cigarettes, that's perhaps a good place to start," she added.
"The GCSC dataset is a Canada-wide source that extends back to 2006 and could be used to assess the effectiveness of policy changes to reduce pollution," said co-author Santiago De La Puente, a Ph.D. student at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC. "So far, we are the first study to analyze this data and our findings could, for example, help the City of Vancouver track changes in the litter being collected on our shorelines."
The research appears in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.