You’re at your favourite beach, wiggling your toes in the sand and suddenly you cut your toe on a piece of glass. You look around and see the litter problem everywhere; chip bags are scattered and cigarette butts are poking out of the sand, while a seagull has its head stuck in a plastic six-pack ring that’s been abandoned. It’s not a pretty picture is it?
Canada has been blessed with many beautiful beaches, but litter can have a negative impact on the beach ecosystem as well as visitors’ experiences – no one likes to visit a beach full of garbage! It is common to think that once you chuck litter away, it is out of sight and out of mind. But that is not the case. Some of the most commonly found littered items at beaches include cigarette butts, plastic bottles and bags, and food wrappers.
The Blue Flag encourages beach operators to strive for the highest standards including excellent water quality, and beach and water cleanliness. Blue Flag beaches across the country work to reduce man-made litter on their shorelines by cleaning up any waste and providing convenient garbage and recycling bins for public use.
Blue Flag certified Bayfield, Grand Bend, Waubuno, and Wasaga Beaches are raising awareness about one of the most littered items on Canadian beaches: cigarette butts. These beaches implemented a “Keep Your Butts Off the Beach” program encouraging the public to dispose of cigarette butts properly. It is a common misconception that cigarette butts are biodegradable. However, the filter is made from strands of plastic fibers. When a cigarette butt is thrown onto the sand, the filter doesn’t break down and chemicals trapped in the filter seep into the surrounding sand, get pulled into the water by the tide, and endanger species living in aquatic environments, thus harming the entire ecosystem.
Blue Flag certified Port Stanley and Victoria Beaches hold community clean-ups to combat plastic pollution, including plastic beverage bottles and caps, food wrappers and plastic bags. Plastic takes years to break down. And even then, plastics only break down into smaller and smaller plastic particles (called microplastics) – they never fully disappear. As if that wasn’t bad enough, microplastics often look like food to marine animals. After eating their fill of plastic, they may feel satiated, but the plastic has no nutritional value, and may block their digestive system, making it detrimental to their health and the health of the whole food chain. Imagine finding a piece of plastic in your salmon at the dinner table!
So, what can you do?
- Visit a Blue Flag certified beach: there are 26 of them across Canada!
- Don’t litter on the beach – try a litterless beach day with reusable water bottles and tote bags rather than plastic bags
- Don’t use products that contain microbeads (ex: whitening toothpastes and face scrubs)
- Don’t treat the beach like an ash tray – dispose of cigarette butts in responsible ways
- Participate in shoreline cleanups
- Put your waste in the right place – what you do on land impacts our water