While plastic pollution is a major threat to oceans, there is growing awareness that tiny fragments of plastic are getting into so much more - from our tap water, to our agricultural soils, and certainly into the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay. As plastic use continues to intensify, and plastic litter assaults our enjoyment of natural landscapes, shorelines and water - there are enormous unknowns about the impacts of so many tiny fragments of plastics on the environment - including the food chain and animal and human health. With your support, Georgian Bay Forever will continue to work and partner to find answers and solutions to mitigate microplastic pollution in Georgian Bay.
Links for microplastics:
- An Introduction
- Microfibres in the Great Lakes Basin
- What are the effects?
- Research we are following in 2018
- 2019 Research GBF is planning to reduce microfibres entering Georgian Bay. Find out how you can help.
- Cigarette butts, composed of microfibres, litter Wasaga Beach in Georgian Bay. Learn more.
- Macroplastics turn into microplastics. Let's clean them up.
- Conclusion and what you can do
- Further reading: Links to other articles on microplastics
How much plastic is out there?
Measuring how many pieces of plastic are in the environment is not an easy task. To quantify floating plastic, I have towed fine-mesh nets aboard research vessels and boats conducting citizen science, such as the youth training tall ships of Toronto Brigantine. Quantifying the number of microplastics can be time consuming – particles are individually separated, sorted, and counted.While information on microplastics in the Great Lakes is limited compared to marine environments like the ocean gyres, a study on three of the Great Lakes (Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Erie) showed the average abundance in surface water was approximately 43,000 microplastic particles per square kilometer. In 2014, surface water was sampled in Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the rivers that feed into them. Recorded abundances of microplastics were between 90,000 and 6.7 million particles per square kilometer. These levels of microplastics are similar to and even exceed concentrations found in ocean gyres like the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”The kinds of microplastics found in these studies — largely fibers, fragments and spheres — are distinct, and tell a story of the people that inhabit the Great Lakes Basin.
Microfibres in the Great Lakes Basin
Microfibres (ers) are some of the most common microplastics in the Great Lakes. Derived from synthetic textiles (e.g. polyester, acrylic, polypropylene, polyamide and polyethylene), microfibers may enter the environment in many ways.One known pathway is shedding from clothing, with studies on synthetic textiles showing that some articles can shed 100,000 microfibers in a single wash. While wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) may capture up to 90% of microfibers entering these facilities, a recent study in the United States showed that a single WWTP can discharge up to 5 million microplastic particles per day, even when serving catchment areas of around 100,000 people.And with approximately 34 million people living in the Great Lakes Basin, the total load of microfibers entering natural waterways is substantial.
What are the effects?
Lisa Erdle’s Research, Rochman Lab, the University of Toronto
In my PhD research, I am leading a project funded by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), in collaboration with Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) and Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) to better understand contamination and effects of microfibers and associated chemicals in freshwater habitats. Thus far, I have sampled fish across Lake Ontario and Lake Huron, including Georgian Bay, and will quantify microplastic ingestion and determine if microplastics are a source of emerging contaminants to these fish in a freshwater food chain. Currently there is little known about microplastics in Georgian Bay, and impacts to wildlife in the Great Lakes, and my research will fill some of these gaps.Contaminants such as flame retardants are increasingly found in the Great Lakes, and are of growing concern in Canada. Some of these contaminants are commonly added to synthetic fibers and textiles during manufacturing. My PhD research specifically aims to investigate the contamination and impacts of microfibers, and any associated chemical contamination of fish. The preliminary results of my research are expected in the spring, and the research is anticipated to be published in the fall of 2018.Legislation to ban microbeads in Canada will come into effect in July 2018. While this is an important move to reduce microplastics emissions, this ban only removes microplastics from personal care products, e.g., microbeads in toothpaste, face wash, etc. The greater challenge will be to work towards solutions that reduce microfibers, the far more prevalent microplastic in the Great Lakes.
The project to reduce microfibres in Georgian Bay. How to help:
Here’s another opportunity to get involved!If you live in Parry Sound and have a washing machine, we are looking for you! As noted above, we need 100-200 volunteers who are willing to help GBF measure the amount of micofibre plastics that are prevented from reaching Georgian Bay by using washing machine filters that we supply to you. For more information on the opportunity and the activities you would need to commit to, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact information and subject line Parry Sound microfibre project. One of our committed staffers will get back to you ASAP!
Help Wasaga be cigarette butt free
Properly disposing your cigarette butts is easy.
At Wasaga Beach 5 (and other participating beaches ), find these tools that make it easier to dispose of your butts:1. Look for these ashtrays pictured below at participating beaches. 2. Empty the ashtray into this receptacle. These cigarette butts will be recycled by TerraCycle. * If you can't find these tools, the important thing to remember is not to leave your BUTTS on the beach. Or anywhere on the ground. Create your own receptacle out of items such as a coffee tin or pop can and then dispose properly afterwards. The beach is not an ashtray!
BUTT is there more I can do?Thanks for caring! Your beaches from Wasaga Beach to the world, need to be cigarette BUTT-FREE. Here are some ways you can help beaches:
- Learn more about why cigarette butts don’t belong on your beach!
- Tell your friends!