Microplastic pollution in the Great Lakes

Cleaning up garbage from shorelines can help reduce microplastic pollution

According to Wikipedia, microplastics “are small plastic particles in the environment that are generally smaller than 1 mm (0.039 in) down to the micrometer range. They can come from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes.” Microbeads, a type of microplastics, can be found in toothpaste, body scrubs and soaps. Recent studies by 5 Gyres Institute of the Great Lakes have indicated that there is a significant presence of microplastics in the water and along the shorelines. A 2014 5 Gyres Institute study found an average of 43,000 microplastic particles per square kilometer in the Great Lakes. More alarming is that this average jumped up to more the 466,000 close to urban centres. Another source of microplastics is the deterioration of plastic bottles and containers over time due to UV rays from the sun and the erosion force of eddies, currents and waves.

Plastics pose a major threat to the health and well-being of wildlife as fish and birds ingest microplastics believing them to be a source of food. According to National Geographic, the microplastic causes reproductive complications in molluscs and can be a gateway for toxins to enter the food chain.

The impact on the Great Lakes has been alarming. The government of Ontario has reported up to 6.7 million particles of plastic per square kilometre were found (about 7 per square metre), with the highest count occurring in Humber Bay of Toronto. This amount is approximately 10 times greater than what has reported to date at open lake sites in Lake Erie. First hand evidence of the scope of the problem was witnessed by TRCA volunteers during the TRCA spring cleanup at Colonel Sam Smith Park when they discovered thousands if not millions of plastic bits along the shoreline.


On August 20th TRCA will be participating in the eXXpedition Great Lakes initiative by leading a cleanup at Marie Curtis Park in Toronto. Staff will sample the shoreline of Lake Ontario for microplastics as part of the world’s largest simultaneous sampling event. The event runs from 10 am to 12 pm The rally point will be on the west side of Etobicoke Creek, off Island Road.

Will you join us? For more information on the eXXpedition Great Lakes event please visit https://mariecurtisparkcleanup_aug20.eventbrite.ca.

In September we will once again be hosting a series of Watershed Wide Cleanup events at sites across the watersheds. The goal of these events is to remove as much plastic and other litter from our natural areas before it reaches our waterways. To participate in the fall cleanups please visit https://wwcfall2016.eventbrite.ca and select the site you wish to help at.