By: Rick Layzell
Anyone who enjoys the water and certainly most boaters would concur that plastic trash is not only an eyesore, it’s also both a hazard and a threat to the natural environment. For The Council of the Great Lakes Region, plastic pollution has been on their radar for years and in 2020 they and other like-minded organizations came together to begin bringing solutions to the problem.
Let’s start with the North American numbers:
The Great Lakes is the largest freshwater system in the world and is home to 107 million people
Some 10 million kilograms of plastic litter is estimated to be floating in these waters
Over 3,500 species of plants and animals use the resource
The region represents 21% of the worlds fresh water supply
With compelling data like this and knowing that additional plastics enter the system each year, the need to create solutions has been evident for some time. The mission was identified to bring an awareness and debris collection process to multiple marinas within the region. The litter will be analyzed, plastics that can be put back into the recycling process will be diverted, and a consumer awareness campaign will be launched.
The next step is to bring the right partners to the table and to that end the Council sought out leaders from multiple organizations each willing and capable of bringing their strengths to the process. After a series of pre COVID in person and post COVID virtual meetings, the following founding partners have committed to being a part of the solution:
In August 2020, Nova Chemicals announced a long-term funding commitment and with support from provincial and federal grants, the Great Lakes Plastics Cleanup was launched.
Two unique diversion technologies had been pre determined as the right tools to help the process.
The award winning Seabin is a ‘trash skimmer’ that acts as a floating garbage bin in marinas. The Seabin is a master at intercepting floating debris, macro & micro plastics and even microfibres and each Seabin can collect up to 3.9 kg of floating debris per day. Common items collected are plastic water bottles, coffee cups, plastic utensils and cigarette butts. Easy to equip oil absorbent pads help the Seabin to absorb petroleum-based surface oils and detergents which are common in many marina environments.
The Litta Trap is a patented catch basin basket that sits inside storm water drains and prevents litter and debris from reaching our storm water systems. The traps mesh basket is designed to capture and retain 100% of plastics and other debris over 5 mm.
Selected debris from both technologies will be sent to the Universities across the province under the watchful eyes of the U of T Trash Team who will oversee analysis and diversion.
A website has been launched and ongoing project results will be posted as well as via partner communications. To date some 25 marinas across Ontario have committed to the project. These important partners serve over 8,000 boating families and will fulfill roles as debris collection points and support consumer communications.
Technologies were installed at marina properties toward the end of the 2020 boating season and will be reinstalled as the ice come off the lakes and the boats are brought back to their slips. The 2021 season will represent the first full seasonal opportunity to begin learning in earnest once debris collection begins.
With the recent announcements that Western University & Lambton College are joining the initiative as research partners the opportunities continue to increase.
Moving our world to reductions in plastics pollution is a worthwhile effort that will take time, patience and long-term commitments. Users are welcome to share their enthusiasm and get involved in the process by visiting greatlakesplasticcleanup.org.
As we learn from our findings, the Great Lakes Plastics Cleanup will educate consumers and industry on steps that can be taken to lessen our impact on the environments we love.