Ocean stewardship through community initiatives. Interview #7 with Ocean Ambassadors Canada
Ocean Ambassadors Canada is committed to ocean stewardship. Through their educational programs and community initiatives, they educate people about the threat of marine pollution to the health of our oceans. Executive Director Alison Wood spoke to Greenfeld Financial recently about her mission of leadership, education, and wet feet! Here is what we learned.
Jeff: What is the mission of Ocean Ambassadors Canada and why is it so important for the next generation?
Alison: Our core purpose is to inspire and connect people with the ocean. Therefore, we have set out on a mission to start Canadians on a journey of reconnecting with nature, ocean stewardship, and learning ways they can help to restore and protect it.
Children and youth are the leaders of the future; embedding sustainability values and care for the planet at a young age encourages sustainability citizenship as children grow older. We also believe that you protect what you love. If we can get the young generation to protect what they love now, then we and the planet will all be better off in the future.
Jeff: How can an individual get involved in the protection and stewardship of our oceans through your organization?
Alison: On the individual level, you can volunteer in one of our community initiatives which are aimed at educating the public about the threat of single-use and plastic items and how individuals can take meaningful action in their everyday lives to help reduce it. The top 12 items most found in shoreline cleanups are single-use and plastic items. These items don’t break down in the ocean and end up affecting everything from microscopic organisms to entire marine food webs. The impacts on the ocean are devastating, but it is often hard for people to connect their own actions, such as purchasing a coffee in a single-use cup, to the long-term pollution this cup becomes after being used for only a convenient moment.
In addition, we just launched our PickUp3 movement. It’s easy: every time you go to the beach, you pick up 3 pieces of garbage and dispose of them properly (either at the beach or at home), and then you can note how many pieces you’ve collected on our trash meter on our website at pickup3.org. Simple as that!
Jeff: How can elementary schools incorporate your mission into their curriculum?
Alison: We provide inspiring educational and experiential programs for Grade 2 and Grades 5-8 students in the Lower Mainland. We bring the students to the beach to get them to experience the ocean firsthand, from anything like intertidal exploration to stand-up paddleboarding (for the older children), and hands-on experiments and games that teach students about how plastics and other pollutants are affecting ocean health. These programs are fun, educational, and engaging. At the end of the session, we circle up to discuss what classes can do at their school to reduce ocean pollution.
Jeff: What can businesses do to become more sustainable?
Alison: Businesses can get involved in our Zero Waste Coaching program. This program is FREE for businesses and is intended to help local businesses move towards zero waste by engaging with more sustainable business operations. It involves a short 20–30-minute meeting at the business location where our zero-waste staff reviews current business practices. We then provide an easy-to-read document that summarizes the sustainability of their current practices as well as provides suggestions on areas where they can make meaningful change. We also offer continued communication, marketing materials, staff training, and/or research for businesses.
Jeff: Your Zero Waste Coaching program sounds like a great initiative. Do you have some stats on plastic/waste reduction to date?
Alison: Thank you! To date, we have found that on average 30% of businesses stopped using plastic shopping bags; 20% stopped using plastic cutlery; 10% have increased the use of non-compostable plastics, wooden utensils, paper takeout containers, and paper bags; and 40-60% have decreased the use of plastic straws, disposable coffee cups, and plastic cold-drink cups. If every business could do a little, the impact would be a lot!
Jeff: When you spoke about the statistics, I heard you say that businesses have “increased the use of non-compostable plastics”. What is wrong with compostable plastics?
Alison: Great question! Plastic items labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable” are – in almost all cases – not actually compostable, meaning they do not and cannot break down in the environment. Even though they have this label that makes one think they will cause little to no harm to the environment, they are actually just as bad as regular plastic items, and in many ways, worse.
Our waste management facilities in BC do not have the proper conditions to heat up these materials so that they degrade at the rate required for them to even be considered “compostable”. In addition, there are no regulations on the market that regulate the “compostability” of these plastic materials. Therefore, waste management facilities can’t tell whether one cup will take only x number of time to degrade, while another cup will take 10 times that amount. So, what ends up happening, is that they end up being thrown into landfills because they are neither compostable nor recyclable. The best thing to do as a consumer is to avoid cups and containers that are labeled “compostable” and bring your reusable containers instead.
Jeff: How many businesses have gone through the program? How do they sign up?
Alison: We had well over 100 businesses go through the program within the Lower Mainland last year. We are currently expanding and are always interested in having more businesses on board. If they’d like to sign up or have any questions about the program, they can send an email to the Zero Waste Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get started when it suits them best!
Jeff: The City of Delta recently banned the use of single-use plastics for all retailers. What other waste-reduction initiatives can small businesses participate in?
Alison: Yes, it is awesome to hear that Delta has banned the use of certain single-use items at retailers.
Small businesses can also participate in reusable cup and container sharing platforms. There are a few that exist within Metro Vancouver, such as ShareWares and Reusables. We currently run initiatives with both impact-driven companies in areas like the Shipyards on the North Shore (Reusables.com) and Commercial Drive in Vancouver (ShareWares).
Both provide a reusable cup and container platform for businesses to subscribe to, which provides an option for customers to choose “reuse” over single-use. There are lots of benefits for businesses, such as saving costs for garbage disposal or supply procurement, gaining new customers, being a business leader in their community, and helping to care for the planet!
Jeff: I love this idea! What is the cost to the consumer and retailer to participate in the Reusables program?
Alison: Some programs, like Reusables have a subscription option for businesses and consumers, whereas others like ShareWares have a deposit system. The cost to the consumer is dependent on how much they use the platform and which platform they use. ShareWares is inherently free because you get your deposit back as soon as you return the cups or containers. For Reusables.com, you get these beautiful and durable stainless-steel containers, so the cost is about 5$ per month for unlimited use for customers.
There is a monthly fee for the Reusables.com service for the retailer, and for ShareWares, it is based on their wash-fee system. They are both wonderful platforms supported by great teams that are on a mission to reduce waste and make sustainability easy!
Jeff: Thank you Alison for sharing your knowledge about ocean stewardship and how we can do more to save our oceans and surrounding nature. To learn more about Ocean Ambassadors Canada, or how you can participate, contact:
Alison Wood | Executive Director | email@example.com Alicia Gowan | Zero Waste Manager | firstname.lastname@example.org