Small acts of community in our own little garbage patch

The Lamb on the Quay boardwalk. Photo: Laura Schneider.
The Lamb on the Quay boardwalk. Photo: Laura Schneider.

The other day I noticed a bunch of Canadian geese down at the Fraser River Styrofoam patch. Why, I wondered, would they prefer to toddle here rather than fly south for the winter? More importantly, I wondered why was no one cleaning this mess up.

The area in question is home to a bunch of stray logs that get jammed into a small grassy, muddy alcove making it a perfect catchall for all kinds of debris.

These logs, which look natural and quite fetching tangle themselves up with those nasties; large pieces of Styrofoam, their offspring chunks and worst of all those pellet sized eggballs that are near impossible to pick up.

I think we all know that Styrofoam is bad and unsightly on our shoreline, but why is it so bad?

Well aside from those crumbling little eggballs that birds and other wildlife seem to find so tasty and then get sick from because it blocks their digestive system which ultimately causes starvation, new research shows that contrary to popular belief, plastic and its chemically gassy, blown-up sibling Styrofoam may actually be breaking down in as little as one year, if the conditions are right.

So the good news is that plastics may be breaking down in no time; the bad news is that these plastics may be releasing all their unpronounceable and potentially toxic chemicals in to our water system a whole lot sooner than we thought.

Well thank goodness none of us drink from the Fraser.

Garbage bagged in a one-person, one-day cleanup at the Quay included about 15 pounds of waterlogged Styrofoam, plastic and glass bottles, cigarette butts, newspapers, a mountain dew box, plastic bags, rope, drink caps, tampon applicators, both paper and plastic, tons of those little wrappers that cover mints you get when you leave the Boat House and, oddly, a coconut. Photo: Laura Schneider.
Garbage bagged in a one-person, one-day cleanup at the Quay included about 15 pounds of waterlogged Styrofoam, plastic and glass bottles, cigarette butts, newspapers, a mountain dew box, plastic bags, rope, drink caps, tampon applicators, both paper and plastic, tons of those little wrappers that cover mints you get when you leave the Boat House and, oddly, a coconut. Photo: Laura Schneider.

And as an aside… why don’t we recycle Styrofoam? As it turns out, no one wants to. Apparently, it can’t be made into much except plastic lunch trays and packing material and it costs a lot to do that. Additionally, the pollution generated by making these lunch trays etc. is far more than making them from scratch.

So anyway, back to the garbage patch that my dog Lamb and I have been walking past for years. It’s interesting because it changes. I’ve seen some really big stuff in there. I once crawled down to investigate an industrial cooler that was about three quarters the size of a refrigerator. My mischievous self wondered if wasn’t big enough to contain a body or some other nastiness.

Anyway this stuff does occasionally appear and surprisingly disappear, but not often enough for my liking. So today I put on my boots, a warm winter coat and red rubber gloves. I grabbed my rake, garbage bags and the Lamb and off we went to clean the mess up.

Lamb in tow, I tossed her over the rail, in order that she may have a good spot for supervising. The idea being that if I fell in or hurt myself she’d sound the alarm.

Once down there you become aware that it isn’t just Styrofoam, it’s all kinds of stuff. And in keeping with the recent Queensborough Shoreline Clean Up initiative held this past September, I think that it’s really important we document my findings.

Here is a list of what I found: lots of Styrofoam, about 15 water logged pounds worth, plastic and glass bottles, some of which were alcoholic and surprisingly still contained remnants inside, cigarette butts, newspapers, a mountain dew box, plastic bags, rope, drink caps, tampon applicators, both paper and plastic, tons of those little wrappers that cover mints you get when you leave the Boat House and of all things a coconut, which I left there.

The interesting thing is that many of these items start to look like natural detritus, which I think, is a plus, to some degree. A while back I was in Hawaii taking pictures of shoreline garbage, which is virtually unnoticeable until you get close. In part because wave erosion, salt and sun convert it to look like everything else in the environment. What a coup.

Again, back to the Quay… so a few people walked by and asked what I was up to, in fact, one person took photographs, as if this was something amazing or covert. I explained that I was taking half an hour out of my day and putting it toward my own personal community initiative. I was going to pick up garbage and report my findings.

In closing, I would like to challenge all New Westmintonians to make their own community initiative. Find something to do that gives back to the community and report back. I’d love to hear from you.

In the words of Noam Chomsky

“We shouldn’t be looking for heroes, we should be looking for good ideas.”