Sources of Knowledge, Parks Canada Host Talk on Micro-Plastics in Great Lakes

Submitted by Lindsey Griffith,
Sources of Knowledge 

On June 26-27, the Sources of Knowledge and Parks Canada co-hosted a Friday evening Zoom talk on the damage micro-plastics are doing to the Great Lakes, followed by a community cleanup. For those of you who were unable to attend, here is a short summary of the findings and follow-up. 

It is estimated that 22 million pounds of plastics enter the Great Lakes each year. Eventually all plastics break down into what are referred to as micro-plastics. These small pieces of plastic are often mistaken for food by insects, plankton, fish, and other aquatic life. Ingestion can cause abrasions or blockages, which can lead to outright starvation. Plastics spread toxins across ecosystems. Aquatic organisms can even get defects as they absorb pollutants into their skin and at the molecular level, which then get passed up the food chain. We learned that current research on Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie proposes that plastic concentrations observed exceed data collected in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch!

Brooke Harrison from Georgian Bay Forever reported on their project employing 100 Filtrol laundry filters with local Parry Sound residents to remove micro-fibres lost from your clothing ($160 each – Brooke’s monitoring showed a recordable difference in micro-fibres in the municipal sewage treatment plant. Parks Canada has just purchased Filtrols for six laundry machines in the park! Brooke is working with University of Toronto professor, Dr. Chelsea Rochman – her graduate student, Lisa Erdl has determined that fish from the Great Lakes can have up to 40 micro-plastics in their digestive tracts.

Hannah Cann from the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation outlined their efforts at regular shoreline cleanups. Hannah reported that 80% of anthropogenic litter is plastics and 600 metric tonnes enter Lake Huron/year, ranging in size from nano (<1 micron) to micro (up to 5 mm) all the way up to mega plastics such as tires. With a 22-year residence time before water leaves Lake Huron this stuff tumbles around, breaking into smaller and smaller plastics. Hannah ended her talk with some positive news highlighting C.R. Plastics in Stratford who use 60 lbs of collected plastic waste to produce one of their Adirondack chairs, and Terracyle who will assist you in recycling many different kinds of plastics that don’t fit in our Blue Box programs.

Our Saturday morning cleanup was dominated by cigarette butts which from a quick Google search is sadly the case with almost all cleanups (4,723 butts in a 2019 Goderich beach cleanup!). Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate fibres which breakdown into micro-plastics and take decades to decompose. Filters also contain thousands of chemicals that can kill plants and animals. We don’t have to go on about how smoking is bad for one’s health – PLEASE, just pick up your cigarette butts! 

To see the video of the slide presentations, please visit: