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 December, 2020]
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: Diversion 2.0 Driving distribution of technology to divert garbage and plastics and driving education.
- Part 3, NEW: The Collingwood Plastic Diversion Program
- Macroplastics turn into microplastics. Shoreline cleanups help!
- The beach is not an astray!
- 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 2020 update on the progress of the Parry Sound source diversion part of the project in summer newsletter. Click here for the" Divert and Capture" 2 page update. Or click here see the summer webinar update (1 hour) .
Curious about the filter?
There are different filters on the market. It's also important for septics.
Read why at this link.
The U of T Rochman lab tested 2 outside washing machine filters. The Microplastics Lint Luv-R sku EE002 (From Lint Luv'r) and the Wexco FIltrol 160, and found they were 87 to 89% effective at capturing microfibers. Both are available in Canada if you search online (if you buy outside of Canada, you will be subject to fees). Last time we looked they cost anywhere from $180 to around $220 BEFORE installment and shipping. For the Divert and Capture project, GBF is installing the Filtrol 160 from Wexco into Parry Sound residences.
- 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.
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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!