Plastic debris along a cottage shoreline is not only unsightly, it’s hazardous to the health of freshwater ecosystems. Georgian Bay Forever, a charity that acts to fund and support scientific research on the freshwater ecosystems of the bay, identified polystyrene foam as the most common type of litter collected during shoreline cleanups on Georgian Bay in 2019. While polystyrene foam can be found in all sorts of packaging materials, including take-out containers and coffee cups, the material is used to float objects like docks, floats, and buoys. If the polystyrene foam isn’t sealed within a harder case, also known as encapsulated polysytrene, the material is at the mercy of the natural elements. Over time it breaks down into tiny pieces that pollute freshwater shorelines.
To prevent further pollution from unencapsulated polystyrene building materials in the province of Ontario, Bill 228 — Keeping Polystyrene out of Ontario’s Lakes and Rivers Act, 2021 is currently before committee. Introduced by Parry Sound — Muskoka MPP Norm Miller, the Bill dictates that anyone who sells, constructs, or reconstructs floating docks, floating platforms, and buoys must ensure that any expanded or extruded polystyrene is encapsulated. At publication of this article, the Bill has passed second reading and is currently awaiting a third reading.
The Bill is being supported by the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations (FOCA). In regards to supporting the bill, Terry Rees, FOCA executive director, says that, “it seems a logical progression for us that we would look to the future and look to technologies that would better support our continued use and enjoyment of the waterfront while not contributing to something that could be a negative impact.”
Rees says that shoreline pollution and its impacts on the waterfront is a top concern for FOCA members. He adds that unencapsulated polystyrene foam is a very common and popular type of building material that’s used extensively in Ontario. “The Bill is one way to ensure that things that are ending up on the marketplace through dock builders are more sustainable.”
The Bill doesn’t provide any regulations for currently operational floating docks, platforms and buoys that contain unencapsulated polystyrene foam. Rees acknowledges that replacing these old foam floats can be a monumental and expensive task for cottage owners.
He suggests taking the time to check out the condition of any unencapsulated polystyrene floats on your property to see if they’re degrading, breaking up, or look like they are no longer serving its purpose. If so, it’s time to start thinking about alternatives. The evidence is there that these dock billets will have impacts down the road.
“Everything we do on the waterfront is going to have some impacts,” Rees adds. “This is one more example of how to be thoughtful about how we approach living in our beautiful rural and northern areas, and it’s an opportunity to think about everything that we bring to the environment that was not there before, and whether it’s going to leave a positive or a lasting legacy.”