A plastic processing facility opens in Richmond to recycle marine litter

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The plant aims to convert 500,000 tons of plastic waste from the oceans into 500,000 tons of pellets every year

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Susan Lazaruk At the official opening of the Ocean Legacy Foundation's new plastic processing facility in Steveston Harbor, Richmond, officials look over a barge stacked with bales of plastic waste. At the official opening of the Ocean Legacy Foundation’s new plastic processing facility in Steveston Harbor, Richmond, officials look over a barge stacked with bales of plastic waste. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

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A recycling facility was opened in Steveston on Wednesday, which is expected to convert 500,000 tons of plastic waste from the ocean into 500,000 tons of pellets annually.

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The Ocean Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit, has been collecting plastic waste since 2016, said co-founder Chloe Dubois in the middle of the cavernous sorting and processing center on Chatham Street.

“Now we finally have our permanent home,” she said.

The group’s expeditions have so far collected more than 85,000 pounds of trash on the BC coast, according to their website.

A pile of plastic waste at the official opening of the Ocean Legacy Foundation's new plastic processing facility in Steveston Harbor, Richmond, designed to process plastic waste on the coast. A pile of plastic waste at the official opening of the Ocean Legacy Foundation’s new plastic processing facility in Steveston Harbor, Richmond, designed to process plastic waste on the coast. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

The yard behind the warehouse is full of foam, floats, ropes, baskets, nets, and plastic containers collected from the coasts and waters of BC.

“Pretty much anything a person buys ends up in the ocean,” she said. “The ocean is the largest landfill in the world.”

An estimated eight to 13 million tons of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans every year.

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The waste must be sorted by hand.

“It’s quite contaminated and it’s quite complex to work with types of resins,” said Dubois.

The foundation also aims to educate consumers about the use of plastic, advocate policies to reduce waste, develop infrastructure, and carry out cleaning and restoration.

The pellets produced will be used to make new plastic materials, reducing the need for new plastic, said British Columbia’s Environment Secretary George Heyman. Furniture and clothing, for example, can be made from the pellets.

“We have to do more,” he said. “We have to keep this waste out of our oceans and landfills.”

The provincial government announced in December 2020 $ 9.5 million for the Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative Fund, a marine remediation project designed to create jobs and help coastal communities recover from the pandemic shutdown.

Heyman said the project resulted in 425 tons of rubble being removed from 306 km of the BC coast and 180 jobs created this year. In 2020, a further 125 tons of plastic waste were recycled.

Most of the waste collected is recyclable.

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