In the ocean, animals often mistake plastics for food. This can lead to immediate death or to poor health due to toxin build-up, damage to their digestive tracts, and reduced ability to feed.

The most impactful solution is to reduce the demand for plastics - especially single-use plastics.

  • Instead of single-use plastics, choose products that can be reused and are made from sustainable materials. For example: opt for durable and reusable take-out containers, coffee cups, cutlery, water bottles, straws, shopping bags, stir sticks, sandwich containers, food wraps, and more.
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  • Avoid plastic packaging. Use products that have little to no plastic packaging such as shampoo bars and concentrated detergents packaged in paper. If possible, shop at stores or farmers’ markets where you can refill reusable containers. You can also work together as friends / neighbours and buy in bulk from a wholesaler, and then fill your own reusable containers. Click here for a directory of zero-waste stores in British Columbia.
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  • Choose ways to incorporate sustainable products into your home, instead of using items usually made of plastic. For example: opt for toothbrushes with replaceable heads, plastic-free ear swabs, biodegradable dental floss, reusable menstrual products, low-waste safety razors, reusable produce bags, reusable food storage containers, and more. Check out this Canadian zero-waste resource for more information.

Ensure plastics don’t end up where they can harm animals.

  • If you can’t avoid using plastic entirely, make sure the plastic is recycled. Look for the symbol made of three arrows with a number at the centre. This indicates the type of plastic the item is made from, and whether it can be recycled through curbside pickup or your recycling depot. However, remember that it’s vastly more helpful to reduce your use of plastics than to recycle them. This is because the collection, transportation, and processing of recycled materials produces climate-changing emissions. It’s also important to know that while biodegradable plastics are made of materials that can rot away, conditions in landfills often do not allow this to happen or lead to emissions such as methane and carbon dioxide that contribute to climate change. Biodegradable plastic is also not accepted by composting programs. It is so much better to use durable, reusable options rather than single-use biodegradable plastics.
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  • Do not release balloons into the air. They will come down somewhere where they can cause significant harm. Most balloons are made of plastic and often also have plastic lines attached to them. Like other plastic materials, balloons persist in the environment for a very long time where animals mistake them for food, or become entangled. This can result in suffocation and/or blockage of the animals’ intestines.
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  • Reduce cigarette butts. Cigarette butts are one of the most frequently littered items in the world. Not only do they contain toxic chemicals, the filters are made of a type of plastic (cellulose acetate) that is a very significant source of microfibres.
    • Support initiatives to reduce cigarette use and cigarette waste through cleanups / recycling, regulatory change, and education. This includes efforts to hold tobacco companies responsible for the waste from their products. 
    •  If you are a smoker, do not put butts in the environment where they can enter waterways. Use sustainable pocket or outdoor ashtrays and recycle your butts and other smoking-associated waste through Terracycle.

Help remove plastics in the environment through activities like beach cleanups.

  • By collecting and sharing the data about about what you have cleaned up and where it was, you provide evidence of the sources of plastic pollution. This helps support education and regulatory efforts to increase responsibility for reducing the sources.
    These data are collected by organizations like Surfrider Canada and the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.
    Click here for the Marine Debris Tracking app used by Surfrider Canada.
    Click here to download Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup data cards.

Help others reduce plastic use by supporting systemic change.

  • Support plastic bans. The fastest and most far-reaching way to reduce plastic pollution is to support bans, especially bans on single-use plastics. Help those working on plastic bans and other actions like public education, legal action, sustainable alternatives, and international systems change. This includes “end-of-life responsibility” for plastics so that companies that manufacture, import, or sell items with plastic packaging must collect and recycle them. Check out the work of organizations like Surfrider Canada and the Ocean Legacy Foundation.
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  • Help businesses, organizations, and politicians reduce single-use plastics and other sources of plastic pollution by letting them know your concerns directly.
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  • Share your positive actions and what you learn with others to help motivate additional positive change. Tag your social posts related to reducing plastics with #AnOceanOfGood.
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  • Vote for policies and governments that reduce plastic pollution.


All photos on this site © Jared Towers, Christie McMillan, Jackie Hildering, and Heidi Krajewsky, unless otherwise indicated.
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© 2022 Marine Education and Research Society.

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