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Team Power Smart members clean up two B.C. beaches

Team Power Smart members unearth beach trash alongside a log at Iona Beach Regional Park in Richmond, B.C.
Team Power Smart members work together to unearth beach trash alongside a log at Iona Beach Regional Park in Richmond.

Shoreline Cleanup events a hit with members in Richmond, Saanich

A couple strolling through Richmond's Iona Beach Regional Park stops to take close-up shots of a beautiful red-winged blackbird, while a few steps away, a herd of two-legged creatures – armed with metal claws – scours the beach in search of plastic, cigarette butts, and other junk that shouldn't be there.

This is not your typical day at the beach. Team Power Smart members chose a summer-like day in May to do what seagulls, those master scavengers, aren't capable of. On a combined 9 km of shoreline at Iona Beach and at Island View Regional Park on the Saanich Peninsula, nearly 200 members collected 350 kg worth of everything from plastic shards to a truck tire.

"We found a soccer ball," says Aviv Chen, 13, tossing a mini ball in his hand at Iona Beach Regional Park.

"And a flip-flop," says his mom Adi.

And lots and lots of other plastics, which brings a smile to the face of Laura Hardman. She's the Director of Plastic for Ocean Wise, which organized the two Shoreline Cleanups for Team Power Smart.

"Pretty much every day, we host cleanups for different groups," says Hardman. "You can check our website for our schedule, and you can even host one on your own. We have guides online about how to do it yourself, how to register and check in. And you can use our app to record the things you pick up."

Interested in leading or joining a Shoreline Cleanup? Until October 31, 2023, Team Power Smart members can join a cleanup or lead their own as a cleanup site coordinator. Just go to the Ocean Wise Shoreline Cleanup site, create an account, search for a location and select it for your cleanup. Make sure you select "BC Hydro" from the "affiliate sponsors" drop-down menu so that Ocean Wise can track member contributions.

Yair Chen, who homeschools his three boys with wife Adi, is very much interested in joining another cleanup. He's almost as impressed by the pile of garbage collected by Team Power Smart members at Iona Beach as the Director of Plastic herself.

"I've never seen someone so excited about garbage," says Chen, with a chuckle.

Hardman has her reasons. Steeped in research, she reels off facts and figures about microplastics. She talks about how, even after Vancouver parks staff recently combed the sand at English Bay, an Ocean Wise-led Shoreline Cleanup crew found plenty of trash. And she says that while the effect of microplastics on sea life is still unclear, there's no doubt it's in the fish. And it's in us too.

"One study showed that the typical human ingests a credit card's worth of plastic per week," she says.

Through the power of water, BC Hydro has a strong connection to the conservation and care of water resources in B.C. Partnering with Ocean Wise is a natural connection, and Team Power Smart members have demonstrated that while they're committed to energy conservation, they have great interest in other areas of sustainability.

Shoreline trash collected by Team Power Smart members at Island View Regional Beach in Saanichton, B.C.
All in a day's work, 177 kg of shoreline trash was collected by Team Power Smart members at Island View Regional Beach in Saanichton. Another 172.8 kg was collected a day earlier at Iona Beach Regional Park in Richmond.

Cleanup data helps push government for plastic bans

Ocean Wise executive vice-president Jennie Moushes says the organization has worked hard to make Shoreline Cleanups scalable so that "anyone, anywhere in Canada" can log in, become the leader of a cleanup and use the Ocean Wise app to track the collected trash. And all that data matters, as Ocean Wise uses it to monitor how much plastic is on beaches, and through that, has had a hand in helping convince governments to reduce usage of single-use plastics.

"The data really gives us that thorough understanding of the problem that we are creating society, and then ways in which we can fix them," says Moushes. "For example, the plastic bag ban [in Vancouver] that was very, very long awaited, was based on our data. And that's all because of the incredible citizens of Canada who are helping us come up with it through these cleanups."

There's a communal joy at the events. At Iona Beach Regional Park, laughter and hugs are exchanged between members and organizers at the close of the day. Two women who hadn't seen each other in five years bump into each other at the event.

"I found it all very educational," said Peter Bryant, a Richmond senior who says he and his wife are long-time recyclers. "We found a mother lode of horrible, broken-down plastic stuff on the beach. There was a big log out there with a kind of drape attached. I think some guy, years ago, had built a lean-to. It had disintegrated, and spread plastic all the way down the beach. We felt good about finding it and picking it up."

Ocean Wise cleanups have attracted more than a million volunteers, and over 44,000 km of beach have been cleaned up. The first cleanup in 1994 was at a beach in Stanley Park by employees and volunteers at Vancouver Aquarium. By 2017, the aquarium expanded its reach through Ocean Wise, a global conservation organization that partnered with the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) to take cleanups nation-wide through the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

Not a member of Team Power Smart? Join, for free, today, to learn about member events, get energy conservation tips, and to enter monthly contests.