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New Richmond facility will recycle plastics removed from B.C.’s beaches

Ocean Legacy Foundation received funding through B.C.’s coastal cleanup program

Ocean plastics collected from B.C.’s waters and remote shorelines will be recycled at a new processing facility in Steveston, one of the first of its kind in Canada.

The facility will play a “crucial role” in helping keep the province’s oceans and shorelines clean by providing a place where the plastics and other debris collected can be recycled and re-purposed, said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, speaking from the new facility at its grand opening on Wednesday.

So far this year, 425 tonnes of debris, including styrofoam, plastic bottles, nets, ropes and tires, has been removed from B.C.’s shores through the provincial government’s Clean Coast, Clean Waters (CCCW) program, which launched last year and provides funding to organizations to carry out cleanup projects.

Most of that debris will be sent for processing at Canadian non-profit Ocean Legacy Foundation’s (OLF) new facility at 3300 Chatham Street near Fourth Ave.

The plastics will be turned into pellets in-house, which can then be used to make new plastic products, Chloe Dubois, OLF’s co-founder and president, told the Richmond News. Materials that can’t be recycled in-house, such as styrofoam and tires, will be sent to third-party recyclers, diverting as much as possible from landfills and helping to fill a gap in the ocean cleanup process. 

“It was basically investing quite a lot of money and resources into going out and retrieving items to then put them back into the earth in a landfill somewhere,” Dubois said.

“Our team, back in 2016, we were frustrated by that, and...decided to at least try to do things better and develop an alternative, and this program is sort of the evolution (of that work) to try to create a zero-waste cleanup.”

However, some material may still be sent to the landfill, if it can't be processed at the facility or recycled through another program.

Dubois said the facility was temporarily located at another Richmond location for about five or six months where it began producing the plastic pellets before moving to its current site, which is under a five-year lease agreement with the Steveston Harbour Authority. 

The non-profit is now ramping up to process 250 pounds of plastic material each hour at the facility, which will also be getting nylon processing equipment by next year, she added. 

OLF received $1.5 million in funding through the CCCW initiative, which helped the non-profit collect over 77 tonnes of debris from the central Salish Sea area, creating 120 jobs in the process. 

The non-profit also received $150,000 from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to develop a proof of concept for the marine plastics processing facility.

Since the provincial cleanup program launched last year, over 550 tonnes of plastic and marine debris have been removed from B.C. beaches.

“Plastic pollution in British Columbia, on the west coast, is a massive issue,” said Dubois. “A lot the areas that are polluted are very remote, and oftentimes uninhabited… Mitigative solutions, as well as solutions which target recovery, are essential in order to curb, and try really to solve, this crisis that we find ourselves in right now.”

Other organizations to receive CCCW funding this year include The Small Ship Tourism Operators Association and the Wilderness Tourism Association, which cleaned up 306 km of shoreline, collecting more than 200 tonnes of marine debris and creating 69 jobs.

Meanwhile, the Coastal Restoration Society partnered with Hesquiaht First Nation, the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ and the T'Sou-ke Nation for three clean-up projects on Vancouver Island, removing 30 tonnes of debris from the Hesquiaht peninsula, as well as six abandoned boats – with three more targeted for removal – from around Ucluelet and cleaning up 40 kilometres of shoreline around Sooke. The Sooke project created 16 jobs.