We came together and helped clean Toronto’s Woodbine Beach; here is what we found.

Plastic pollution is finding its way to some of the most pristine beaches in the world. Blue Flag beaches are maintained to the highest standard and regularly cleaned, but these days plastic is so stubborn it’s showing up via the water or being washed down to the shore from city streets. Small pieces of plastic and items such as cigarette butts and bottle caps are especially hard for beach grooming equipment to pick up. That’s why we headed to Woodbine Beach in Toronto last week to lend a hand in the fight against plastic.


Group of Environmental Defence Volunteers at the woodbine beach cleanup
Shayna Markowitz / Bluetrail Creative


We came together as a ragtag bunch of 53 volunteers, our partners from Surf the Greats, representatives from the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, and a few of our own Environmental Defence Staff. All here to do our part and pick up the hard to clean litter from the beach and surrounding park. In just one morning we removed 110lbs of garbage and plastic pollution from the area.

Here are the top 3 items we collected at the beach cleanup:

  1. Cigarette Butts

At our cleanup, we collected over 2100 cigarette butts!  According to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup there are millions of cigarette butts cleaned from our coasts every year. Cigarette butt litter really burns us up, because not only are they litter – they are full of cancer causing toxic chemicals. The butts take up to 10 years to biodegrade, all the while leaching those chemicals into the sand and water.  They also get mistaken for food by hungry birds and wildlife, which doesn’t do them any good at all.


A gloved hand holds a pile of cigarette butts from the beach cleanup
Shayna Markowitz / Bluetrail Creative


  1. Small bits of plastic.

Number 2 on our most-wanted list from the beach cleanup, and one that is especially threatening to wildlife, is small plastic fragments. Volunteers cleaned up nearly 400 small pieces of plastic that were under 2.5cm. Plastic fragments of this size are well on their way to becoming dangerous micro plastics and entering our waterways.  If groups like us don’t do these beach cleanups, the tiny plastic pieces fall through the cracks of regular cleaning equipment and will only break down further and become more damaging. With the help of our volunteers, we were able to halt the slow and damaging process of plastic breaking down into smaller and harder to clean up micro plastics.


Bits of plastic littering the beach
Shayna Markowitz / Bluetrail Creative


  1. Bottle Caps

Bottle caps were another very common piece of litter our team found during the beach cleanup. While the bottles themselves are easy enough to pick up during regular maintenance, but just like cigarette butts and small plastic fragments, their small caps slip through the cracks. We found 210 pesky bottle caps hanging out unwelcome on the beach.

Bottle cap pollution could have been entirely avoided by simply remembering to pack a reusable water bottle for the beach. In fact, single use plastic is almost always avoidable, and can be replaced by reusable and sustainable solutions. This past month was #PlasticFreeJuly – did you make any commitments to reduce your plastic use?


Bits of plastic and a water bottle sat collected from woodbine beach cleanup
Shayna Markowitz / Bluetrail Creative


Our morning on the beach was eye opening to say the least.  In just a couple of hours we collected plastic and garbage weighing as much as a small teenager – and from a beach that is cleaned frequently!  Now, we realize that even Blue Flag beaches need a helping hand, as plastic pushes its way into every corner of our environment and falls through the cracks. For every piece of plastic that we clean out of our beaches, parks, rivers, lakes and oceans, we get a little bit closer to a healthier planet for all – humans and critters alike.

But cleaning up the damage that’s already done is just a small piece of the puzzle – we also need to tackle plastic pollution at the source.  Sign our petition to ask the Federal Government for a new law to stop plastics entering our environment!


Group of volunteers at woodbine beach cleanup
Shayna Markowitz / Bluetrail Creative