Microplastics litter beaches and waterways across Canada and they pose a risk to animals and people. Now, local researchers are looking at ways to clean up the mess microplastics leave behind.

“Microplastics are being ingested by the smallest little creatures and insects which, in turn, are eaten by fish, and we eat the fish,” explains Rebecca Teddiman, an environmental engineering student at NSCC.

“So it ends up being a ubiquitous problem that affects all life.”

Teddiman is studying microplastics at beaches across Nova Scotia. As part of her research, she scoops the top layer of sand and filters it through mesh, which can pick out plastic as small as 100 microns.

Much of it comes from packaging and bigger plastics, which have broken down over time.

“We’re getting more obsessed with convenience foods and home delivery and shopping online and that’s just more and more packaging and waste,” says Susanna Fuller, senior projects manage for Oceans North, a non-profit organization that fosters science and community-based conservation in the Arctic regions of Canada and Greenland.

Experts say it will be tough to rid the beaches of micro-plastics, and a crucial step is cutting down the amount of plastics we use in the first place.

They say we can also look at using different materials for things like fishing gear.

“We still have fishing gear being lost in the future, even if we’re very careful, so I think we also need to start thinking of alternatives to things that are on the ocean on a regular basis,” says Fuller.

While the problem is a significant one, Teddiman says the solution could come one beach at a time.

“Most of Nova Scotia’s beaches, 95 per cent are privately-owned, so this is something that the Banook Canoe Club, for instance, or Mic Mac Club across the way that has a beach, people that have their own private beach could invest in this equipment and remediate their own beach,” says Teddiman.

Researchers say the initial research is focused on finding out how much microplastic litters beaches across Nova Scotia. Once researchers have an idea as to how much is out there, they say they will have a better idea as to how to deal with the issue.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Emily Baron-Cadloff