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.[Updates added in November, 2019]
Links for microplastics:
- An Introduction
- Microfibres in the Great Lakes Basin
- What are the effects?
- Research we followed
- Part 1: What GBF is doing. , Parry Sound: Divert and Capture 2019 and ongoing . GBF is working with you to reduce microfibres entering Georgian Bay.
- Part 2, NEW: What GBF is planning: Collingwood: Divert and Capture. Help us get this funded for a 2020 April start date
- The beach is not an astray!
- 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. [Update 2019 - Link to Lisa Erdle's published research. Click here. ]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.
Part 1: 2019 – 2021, the Parry Sound study and broad educational and collaboration efforts
What's been done?In short, about 100 volunteer households in Parry Sound agreed to install a filter on their washing machines - the filter catches fibres before they are washed down the drain. The volunteers will be accumulating the fibre guck and handing the guck samples to GBF over a year (the first pick-up happened in November 2019). Participants would then be asked to participate for another year.GBF, working with the University of Toronto Rochman Lab, will analyze the samples by weighing the amount of plastic/fibres that have been successfully diverted. GBF is also looking at the makeup (the chemicals) of the fibres within some of the samples. We continue to also work with the Town to capture and monitor, analyze and weigh the effluent from the waste water treatment facility in order to better understand the scope and breadth of the diverted substances.Currently, water treatment plants capture an estimated 90% of these tiny particles (most commonly shed through washing clothes such as fleece), leaving 10% to escape into our water. We have estimated based on research quantities outlined in Ms. Erdle’s report, that a possible 58, 880,000 pieces of microfibers could be entering the water from permanent Parry Sound residents (based on a population of 6400 doing one load of laundry every other day). And even more alarming is that in the summer months, the population explodes to over 60,000 seasonal residents.Also, more research is pointing to the volume of microfibres being dispersed in the air, where they can reach all sorts of environments including water bodies and as far as the Arctic. A source could be your dryer where microfibers are bypassing internal lint traps and being emitted into the air. A selection of volunteers will be testing the effectiveness of external lint filters attached to the exhaust pipe of the dryer.
- SEE the summer 2019 update on the progress of the Parry Sound source diversion part of the project in our Fall 2019 newsletter. Click here for the" Divert and Capture" 1 page update.
- SEE the summer 2019 1 page update on shoreline cleanup findings in our Fall 2019 newsletter. Click here for "Top 12 Litter Items You Picked Up From Georgian Bay Shorelines.
Your funding support is valuedCurrent and anticipated projects like this one cannot happen without support from donors, partners and other funders. Every dollar raised helps us to move critical projects forward and helps to leverage opportunities where matching funds are a necessary requirement. Your donations work hard and we truly appreciate each and every dollar given!
GBF wishes to acknowledge the support of these partners:
and our many community volunteers!
NEW: Part 2, A 3 Year Collingwood study and extending educational and collaboration efforts
- FIRST came part 1 in Parry Sound started in 2019 (If you missed it, see Part 1: Parry Sound )
- NOW we are planning part 2 in Collingwood to start in 2020. Next step is to raise the necessary funding.
- Physically divert microplastics/microfibres from entering our water at the source.
- Engage the community in hands-on clean up
- Provide the public with information on what microplastics are, why they are so harmful to the water and animals, how they affect the water quality and lastly, to provide practical tips they can employ easily to prevent their own advancements to the issue.
Here’s another opportunity to get involved!If you live in the Town of Collingwood and have a washing machine, we will be looking for you! If the project gets funded, we need 500 volunteers who are willing to help GBF measure the amount of microfibre plastics that are prevented from reaching Georgian Bay by using washing machine filters that we supply to you. Please email us, and let us know you would be willing to be a volunteer and we can contact you when the project is funded. Email email@example.com with your contact information and subject line Collingwood microfiber 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!
Macroplastics turn into microplastics. Let’s clean them up.
- A PDF download on tips to reducing microfiber plastics from getting into the environment. Click here.
- A one-page PDF of some tips from a Pointe au Baril workshop in July 2019. Click here.
d) Research what can be recycled in your municipality to avoid contaminating or creating extra costs for recycling. Adjust your blue bin habits accordingly. e) Donate to GBF's efforts to protect the water of Georgian Bay including our 2020 proposed Collingwood extension to the ongoing project, "Divert & Capture: The fight to keep microplastics out of our water". f) Properly dispose of cigarette butts. They do not belong on our shorelines or beaches because they contain microfibres and have toxic chemicals that can harm wildlife.