Single-use food and beverage container waste found on Canadian coasts almost doubled during the peak of COVID-19. This is according to the 2020 “Dirty Dozen” report prepared by the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. About 15,000 volunteers helped clean 41,000 kilograms of litter from the Canadian shorelines in 2020.

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“We were startled to see that single-use food and beverage litter increased from 15.3 percent of all litter in 2019 to 26.6 percent in 2020,” said Julia Wakeling, outreach specialist for the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. “We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods.”

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The report also recorded the presence of face masks in the waste cleaned up from shorelines for the first time. For the 27 years that the program has been running, face masks have never been recorded as part of the waste.

diagram of types of litter found on Canadian beaches in 2020

“We didn’t have a category on our data cards last year to formally track the amount of PPE-related litter volunteers were finding, but we have added one for 2021,” Wakeling said. “This year’s results will be very interesting.”

The organization is now urging Canadians to participate in cleanups in 2021 with the hope of covering up for the lost time during the pandemic. In 2020, the program experienced a 70% drop in the number of volunteers and also had to stop cleanup events for about 4 months. The organizers have implemented measures to protect volunteers from COVID-19 while targeting to increase waste collection.

Pollution, especially plastic pollution, is one of the greatest threats facing our ocean, but it is a threat we can tackle together,” said Lasse Gustavsson, president and CEO of Ocean Wise. “Plastic has become omnipresent in our daily lives and yet each decision we make at work, at home, at school or out and about, has the potential to have a positive impact.”

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is a partnership between the World Wildlife Fund Canada and Ocean Wise with the aim of conserving nature. The program brings together volunteers from across Canada to help with cleanup events.

+ Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

Images via Cristiano Pinto and Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup