Liquid trash cans help collect garbage from Vancouver’s waterways

Stationary cleaning machines called lake hills help clear Vancouver’s False Creek of garbage, one ball of waste at a time.

Sadie Caron of Fraser Riverkeeper, the charity behind the project, says the bins are attached to various locations around Granville Island. They foam the surface of the water 24 hours a day using an electric pump to catch any kind of liquid waste.

“Water is sucked in from the surface and it passes through a catch bag that can be removed inside an ocean box,” Caron said.

The pump is capable of displacing 25,000 liters of water per hour and the bins catch the waste. Filtered water is then pumped back into the marina.

“All, all the waste that is trapped inside the catch bag and the catch bag is emptied every single day. And they can catch about 3.9 kilos of liquid waste every day,” she said.

The seabeds are part of a broader plan to reduce plastic waste from entering the world’s gardens and waterways.

Small styrofoam balls are removed from one of the bins. (Fraser Riverkeeper)

Plastic breaks down, but not completely – only into gradually smaller pieces known as microplastics. These tiny plastics enter the food web via less important food sources such as plankton and krill, where they are ingested by other animals.

An estimate by the International Union for Conservation of Nature suggests that seven million tonnes of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year.

Foam, cigarettes and plastic

Caron says the trash cans have captured a wide variety of waste: disposable masks, bottles, syringes, plastic wrap, cigarette butts, over 2,000 pieces of foam and hundreds of small plastic pills called nurdles, which are typically used in plastics making.

“Everything that floats in the water of False Creek is collected in the bins,” she said. The waste is then sorted and sent for recycling, hazardous waste or to the landfill.

Disposable plastic like this spoon is a great source of water contaminants found floating in False Creek. (Fraser Riverkeeper)

Caron notes that this is a first step in their work.

“One of the important steps, we’ve probably all heard it before, but is reducing the amount of plastic waste we consume, especially things like styrofoam that are so common in many of our disposable lunchboxes,” she said.

“Even the docks to which the seabeds are attached often have styrofoam, and it breaks down into small pieces and ends up in our waterways. For things like disposable plastic, we use them once, but then they live in our environment for hundreds of years.”

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