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From Alia's notebook 

Hi, <<First Name>>. You're probably familiar with the sci-fi trope that robots will eventually take over the world — but after conducting research and interviews for my first investigation into water pollution, I think plastic might do it first. 

Before launching my investigation, I already knew humans use a lot of plastic (thanks partly to @plasticfreemillennial, who I profile, below) and that plastic in the ocean is expected to outweigh fish by 2050. What I didn’t realize is that microplastics are everywhere — from the air we breathe to the water we drink. Heck, last month, scientists even found plastic in the stomachs of animals from the deepest places on Earth.

The scary thing is we don’t know much about how this plastic — which takes hundreds of years to decompose — will impact us or the planet. “We’re basically conducting experimental research with Mother Nature,” says Peter Ross, director of the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Pollution Research Program.

In B.C., shellfish growers are among those worried about microplastics, such as fibres from laundry, making their way into the ocean — and eventually, into oysters and clams. “Shellfish are the canary in the coal mine [because] they’re filtering 15-plus litres of water a day,” says Darlene Winterburn, executive director of the B.C. Shellfish Growers Association. “Anything in the water is coming up through the gut of the oyster.”

Darlene Winterburn, executive director of the B.C. Shellfish Growers Association, is concerned about pollution — ranging from plastic debris to human waste — in the ocean. (Photo provided by Darlene Winterburn)

I’m planning a trip to Vancouver Island next year to learn how shellfish growers and others affected by plastic pollution are responding to this crisis. I'll also examine whether Canada needs a national marine debris strategy, which you can read more about here).

Until then, I’ll be gathering water pollution stories from across Canada. How has water pollution impacted you or your community, and how did you respond to it? Send me an email, tweet or Facebook message, or you can share your experience on social media using the hashtag #SustainableDiscourse. I'd also love if you filled out this survey to tell me what else you'd like me to investigate. Finally, if you know someone who'd enjoy my newsletter, please ask them to subscribe.

That’s all for now. Have a lovely holiday season and a happy new year.

See you in 2018,
Alia

Spotlight: A plastic-free millennial

I became interested in plastic pollution partly because of my friend Yuliya Talmazan, a journalist who documents her efforts to cut plastic out of her life on the Instagram account, @plasticfreemillennial, and a blog of the same name.

When Yuliya travelled to Haida Gwaii in B.C. in May 2016, she was awed by its natural beauty, including one moment on a remote beach when eagles feasted on the carcass of a large marine animal. But she also saw flip flops, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, toys and even part of a washing machine on the beach.

“I was just shocked. The beach was caked in plastic. ... Not only that, it’s the open ocean, so the waves pulverize everything, and it gets mixed into the ecosystem,” she said, adding that the ocean currents carry a "ridiculous amount" of plastic to the remote archipelago where a few thousand people live. 

Concerned, Yuliya tried to go plastic-free for a month in July, and has drastically changed her habits since. Although she can’t completely give up plastic — she'd have to say goodbye to mascara and Advil — Yuliya tries to minimize her use wherever she can.

When I interviewed Yuliya last week, she was in Moscow, where she had to drink bottled water due to safety concerns; so, she saved all her bottles to take home to London for recycling. Yuliya also plans to serve drinks with paper straws at her wedding. “When you go plastic-free, you have to go out of your comfort zone,” she explains.

ICYMI

  • In this explainer, the BBC breaks down plastic pollution using seven charts
  • This Hakai Magazine article describes how bubbles could help stop plastic pollution.
  • According to a Discourse investigation, Canada doesn't have much data on the number of oil spills that've happened here. This could make it more difficult for us to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of preventing and significantly reducing marine pollution by 2025.
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Header photo: Yuliya Talmazan
 
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