In March, North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney introduced private member’s motion M-80 to the House of Commons in Ottawa.
The motion urges the federal government to ban expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS) from floating structures such as docks in aquatic environments across Canada. In layman’s terms: foam, commonly known as styrofoam.
World Oceans Day is on June 8, and Blaney is holding a virtual town hall on not just the foam issue, but to talk about the state of the world’s aquatic environments and how the public can support its health, and urge governments to act.
“Many folks got a hold of me [North Island and qathet region] concerned about foam left on the beach, and in freshwater environments,” said Blaney. “From Powell River to Lund and Savary Island, talk to anyone who organizes a beach cleanup and they see [foam].”
Savary particularly has a significant amount of this material wash up on its shores due to the current.
“There is so much foam on the beach, so it’s definitely a big issue for people in the qathet region,” said Blaney.
This “foam” as [constituents] call it, breaks down into microplastics that potentially have significant impact on water and terrestrial wildlife, and end up in stomachs of baby turtles for example. The foam is from a wide variety of sources including docks, boat stands and packaging.
This issue is not just present in Blaney’s riding, but all across Canada and around the world, too.
“Part of the reason the motion came forward was because constituents from my riding, including Powell River, were concerned,” said Blaney. “We had a letter writing campaign and sent out petitions; as signatures and letters were collected my constituents sent them to me to read out in parliament.”
Blaney partnered with Fishing for Plastic environmental society and nonprofit Surfrider Canada asking for a complete ban of foam in aquatic environments in Canada.
However, the response from the federal government was lackluster and the foam issue is not necessarily a top priority at the moment, according to Blaney. She is hopeful for change.
“That’s why we still put this motion forward, even if we don’t get to debate it [in parliament], we can educate the public,” said Blaney.
The MP said she understands small businesses might be impacted or there might be resistance from some industries to change, and that’s why she is more concerned with educating rather than blaming anyone.
“How do we eliminate [EPS and XPS], and at the same time, how do we support small businesses to deal with this?” said Blaney.
Human innovation has already come up with alternatives to the foam currently used, but as with most changes, it’s slow going, but happening.
In Campbell River, there are now some tin flotations and on Vancouver Island, Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District and the District of Tofino replaced a street dock made from EPS foam and replaced it with air floats.
According to Blaney, there are “many readily available alternatives that are manufactured in Canada that can be used instead of EPS and XPS, especially for floats for docks, rafts, aquaculture amenities and other aquatic infrastructure.”
For example, air-filled flotation devices can replace polystyrene floats that are actually more weather-resistant and sustainable.
“Anyone who walks on the beach can see many types of foam wash up on the shoreline and as it breaks down it gets smaller and smaller, and has a significant impact on aquatic life and wildlife around it,” said Blaney. “The other issue for me is, especially when we see a changing climate and big wind storms, how do we prevent the continued exposure of plastics in the water across this planet?”
The public is invited to participate in World Oceans Day virtual town hall, Thursday, June 8, at 6 pm, with Blaney; Lilly Woodbury, regional coordinator of Surfrider Foundation Canada; and Chloe Dubois, co-founder of Ocean Legacy Foundation, which has organized extensive ocean cleanup initiatives and co-created one of the first ocean plastic processing centres in BC.
To register, go to rachelblaney.ndp.ca/events.