Tsunami cleanup continues along Vancouver Island coast

When Karla Robison dreams, she puts a Styrofoam densifier, glass-crusher and wood-chipper at the top of her wish list.

Robison, Ucluelet’s environmental and emergency services manager, co-ordinates the tsunami debris regional working group, made up of communities from the west coast of Vancouver Island, First Nations and local agencies.

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As Robison and her teams pick up mountains of plastic, Styrofoam, wood and fibreglass — some tsunami-related and some general garbage — the detritus is sorted into bins and totes, with the aim of recycling as much as possible.

Ideally, the material should be recycled or crushed locally, to minimize the carbon footprint and create local jobs, but equipment is needed, Robison said.

“We really want to process everything locally,” she said.

With the recent announcement that Japan is contributing $1 million to Canada to help with tsunami debris cleanup, Ucluelet and Tofino are hoping cash will find its way to local communities struggling to cope with increased cleanup costs.

“I certainly hope some of it will come our way,” said Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne.

“I do take heart from [B.C. Environment Minister] Terry Lake saying that the majority of the funding will find its way to local communities and First Nations.”

Robison said she is grateful for Japan’s contribution.

“It’s a very, very generous gift. It’s an unprecedented gesture, really, considering what that country continues to go through,” she said.

Some material could offer business opportunities, such as chipping wood for landscaping or crushing glass to make tiles, if the appropriate equipment was available locally, Robison said.

Already, glass has been turned into artwork by a Japanese student from Pearson College, who is sending the finished pieces back to Japan, she said.

Andrew Almack of Victoria has formed PlasticShore, a not-for-profit organization, and is hoping to work with communities such as Ucluelet and Tofino to recycle tsunami-related plastic products.

The aim is to find a company that needs plastic for its product — such as turning bottles into fleece jackets or hard plastic into synthetic logs — and, because of the source, the company could then get eco-label certification, he said.

“There is a lot of potential for this,” Almack said.

“This approach transforms plastic pollution into a valuable asset for companies and helps mobilize the corporate sector to fund the collection of marine plastic debris.”

A processor on Vancouver Island has already offered to help with the prototype, Almack said.

Meanwhile, reporting tsunami debris has became a little easier as the Coastbuster app, developed at the University of Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada, is now available for iPhones. It was previously available only on Android phones.

The app can be used to upload photos of debris, which will be vetted by Oceans Network Canada, and relevant pictures will then be sent to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency heading tracking efforts.

To download the app go to tinyurl.com/chxk2e6.


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