A Surrey organization is revolutionizing the way we deal with the vast quantities of ocean junk washing up on the coast. The Ocean Legacy Foundation has formed alliances with the key players trying to give the bits of plastic and other garbage a second chance at life, and it wants average Surrey residents to be aware of how their everyday decisions impact the environment.
“When people go to Tim Hortons and buy a cup of coffee, what happens to that lid?” said executive director and co-founder Chloe Dubois, bringing up the kind of question she says locals need to start asking themselves. “When it leaves my hand where does it go?”
Ocean Legacy is more than an office-front in the ‘burbs putting out press releases about how they’re “changing the world” without really doing much.
Actually, this Surrey-based agent of social and environmental change has done quite a lot in a short time, from heading down to Mexico and planning a trip to Costa Rica to focusing on purifying British Columbian coastlines as its bread and butter. They’ve worked alongside the Japanese government and the Vancouver Island Marine Working Group to get debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami off our shores.
The non-profit partners with First Nations organizations like the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and teams up with local governments, including Surrey.
It’s not exactly a walk in park to do this stuff. We’re talking about extremely dangerous, technical and costly endeavours.
“That work is very hazardous and demands a lot of skills, experience and equipment to get in there,” said Pete Clarkson, who produces art created from items Ocean Legacy collects at his Washed Up Workshop in Tofino. “It gets very expensive when you start involving boats, helicopters and the time it takes to clean it up, remove it and get it to a transportation centre.”
And then comes the hard part.
“Now what do we do with this material?” Dubois said. “That’s where we started trying to step up.”
And Ocean Legacy has made great strides.
It’s not quite as simple as putting junk on a barge and dumping it at a recycling centre. The repurposing world is its own marketplace, and finding uses for the myriad items out in the ocean is a gargantuan task.
Clarkson has been involved in shoreline cleanups for years and says Ocean Legacy is filling an important void in this aspect of environmental conservation, specifically when it comes to finding and fostering opportunities to recycle the garbage.
“That’s been a real missing piece,” he said. “Recycling marine debris is very challenging. Most recyclers don’t want to accept it so it ends up at the landfill.”
Ocean Legacy has tonnes of plastic squirreled away in a variety of different locations and it’s searching for a location for its own marine debris upcycle centre.
But that’s only the beginning.
What the organization has realized is that if a solution doesn’t exist you just have to invent one.
And that’s what they’re doing now. Ocean Legacy has already been demonstrating its ability to change plastics into fuel – essentially changing a petroleum product back into oil. It’s the epitome of combatting what we think of as the iconic pollution industry head on, yet with a positive approach.
It gets pretty technical when you ask them how this scientific process works. Lets just say through a technique called pyrolysis, plastic items can be turned into kerosene, diesel and petroleum equivalents.
The company began this part of their journey in 2015 when they purchased a machine to experiment with plastic-to-fuel technology. Ocean Legacy found it could turn a kilogram of plastic into a litre of mixed oil.
Last year it sent almost three tonnes to a large-scale plastic-to-fuel company called Vadxx for analysis now awaits the test results.
But they’re not going to stop there.
“We are devising a fairly dynamic strategy right now,” Dubois said. “It’s more than plastics.”
Ocean Legacy is trying to find new ways to minimize our use of virgin sources of oil while investing in potentially ground-breaking ideas.
All that’s happening parallel with the group’s efforts to drive home the importance of eco-conscious behaviour to everyday people in Surrey, and beyond.
They’ve already worked with the City of Surrey to help get the information out on the important work they’re an integral part of, at World Oceans Day at Blackie Spit Park.
Clarkson says the fact the organization is based in Surrey has helped it make important connections in the recycling world.
“You have to be in a place where you can connect with the potential opportunities,” he said.
“You have to wait for the right time and the right group. You have to be patient and have a place to store the material.”
Now Ocean Legacy has partnered with Lush, working with the powerful soap and beauty product retailer to get them to use recycled materials from the ocean in their packaging. They’re also giving consumers a reason to become involved, via an incentive for returning empty containers.
After all, this is no laughing matter.
“Plastic pollution is becoming one of the world’s biggest catastrophes,” Dubois said. “If you have a curiosity about what the impact of plastic could be, and how you could improve your consumption habits, ask questions.”
Check out what this Surrey environmental group is up to on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/oceanlegacy/
Or head over to their web page to stay in touch with its progress:
Check out Pete Clarkson’s upcycle art here: