Sorry Aqua, life with plastic is not that fantastic!
The opportunity to attend the plastic pollution training webinars set-up by the CWHC and ECCC’s Dr. Jennifer Provencher was like nothing I had been a part of since the COVID-19 pandemic started. As a Master of Public Health student, the majority of my classes and research focus on big picture components and I rarely get to be involved in the more ‘hard science’ focused discussions. These sessions allowed me to be a part of both. I was lucky to be invited to attend these sessions because of my keen interest in plastic research which began after remotely completing my summer practicum with the CWHC.
Prior to this summer, I had not thought much about plastic pollution. I knew plastic pollution was a concerning problem worldwide and I knew I always felt shame on the days that I forgot my reusable bags at the grocery store. I think a lot of people who are not involved in this field of research might view plastic pollution as ‘someone else’s problem’. As researchers, we are that someone else. This webinar series pulled back the curtain on how difficult plastic research can be, potential research endeavours and how to appropriately approach plastic research going forward.
How to tell if an audience is engaged during an online learning event? There is lots of participation. The set-up of this series was engaging and challenging. Since participants were from a variety of backgrounds, thoughtful questions were constant, and with each discussion, a greater collective understanding was the result. The outcome of this level of engagement is comprehensive and consistent understanding. Since I was at home, I was not able to get my hands on the distributed plastic samples, but I was still able to learn just how difficult plastic classification can be. From reading research articles, plastic classification appears easy. Everyone knows what polystyrene looks like, its usually white and almost fluffy and floats on water. But what does that look like once it has been inside the belly of a seagull? A lot different it turns out. Being able to see different plastic types laid out flat, the distinctive characteristics we have in our minds easily melt away and they all look a bit more…miscellaneous. Since standardization and harmonization of protocols and data reporting has been an important highlight of research efforts, seminars like this are critical in ensuring this is carried through.
Prior to this series, I thought that plastic mainly posed a threat to wildlife through ingestion and entanglement. Learning all of the other pathways including biomagnification, bioaccumulation, trophic transfer and many more, got the wheels in my brain turning. There are many components to plastic pollution that need to be taken into consideration before creating well informed and targeted solutions. Through opportunities like this series, I am able to take this knowledge into my own work either in a professional or academic context. There is so much work to be done in this area of research, and I hope to be a part of it. While it is disheartening to learn of the negative effects we have on wildlife, there is hope in knowing that so many individuals want to learn and share their knowledge.
Knowledge shared = knowledge2. While the pandemic has limited us in a lot of ways, our ability to share knowledge has not, as long as we are creative. A main takeaway from this series is that, across Canada, there are so many engaged and driven individuals who are focused on propelling plastic pollution research forward. This is particularly important as we see policies for single-use plastics being delayed or removed and also the littering of PPE within our communities. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of an amazing learning opportunity.