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The federal government should list expanded polystyrene for use in aquatic environments as a Priority Substance List of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.


​Reducing the use of expanded polystyrene at sea requires action at provincial and federal levels.

Photo of big pieces of styrofoam used for docks, collected from a cleanup.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is making progress towards enforcing the use of encapsulated foam floats in aquaculture. However, this is not a comprehensive solution. Encapsulated foam is prone to leakage during extreme weather and will still result in expanded polystyrene contamination. 

Section 76 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 requires the creation of a priority substance list to identify substances whose presence may threaten the health of Canadians and/or the environment. Once on this list, the potential toxicity of the substance is further investigated. If labelled toxic at a federal level, further regulation for the use of polystyrene in marine environments can be implemented.


Expanded polystyrene is a direct contaminant to the Salish Sea and should be added to this list. 


The Canadian government added a number of single-use plastics to the Priority Substance list in 2020. Expanded polystyrene is a direct source of contamination to marine environments and should be included in the list.

There are few regulations in place to target polystyrene pollution. While polystyrene take-out containers are now banned in the City of Vancouver as of 2020 (City of Vancouver, 2020), polystyrene use in floatation remains uncontrolled. The current condition of license for the aquaculture industry in BC states that all Styrofoam™ must be adequately contained and that if the containment starts to break apart, the operators must dispose of it properly. However, in the current license, the brand name “Styrofoam™” is used, which is just one of the many types of foamed polystyrene on the market. Thus, aquaculture operators can easily use this as a loophole, making it difficult to enforce the containment of all foamed polystyrene. For this reason, a new condition of the license is to be implemented by DFO in 2021.
While there are some largely ineffective regulations in place for aquaculture, there is almost nothing offered to monitor polystyrene pollution in marinas, aquaculture, and other businesses. Instead, these other sectors are urged to use best management practices on their own accord. The only regulation in place for docks found was a “general permission requirements checklist” for building docks in BC. This guide states that docks are not to be constructed using materials that contain toxic substances. However, since polystyrene has not been listed as a toxic material, despite its many toxic traits, it clears this checklist.

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