Litter in the Lake: Garbage, debris keep volunteers busy

Published: May. 18, 2017 at 3:16 PM EDT
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Garbage patches’ the size of Texas have been discovered in the ocean, and now researchers have discovered our Great Lakes are filling up with plastic faster than previously thought.

Meteorologist’s use computer models to track storms, wind, waves, and now you can add plastic to that list.

The bad news is that our lake is filling up with man made objects, but technology could help volunteers get the plastic out of our water.

On a cold and rainy late April day, a group of volunteers with Partners for Clean Streams lined up at International Park to pick up trash.

Zion Kania is one of the 11 volunteers that helped, and she was stunned by her discoveries.

Kania said, “It is bizarre the things you will find in a stream. It blows your mind honestly.”

Little by little eight full trash bags were filled up with 100 pounds of glass bottles, cigarette butts, food wrappers, and lots and lots of plastic.

All of this plastic will eventually run down the creeks, streams, rivers, and out into Lake Erie unless somebody intervenes by removing it.

Volunteer groups like this will pick up 25,000 pounds of trash every single year. The problem is – another five million pounds of plastic finds its way into Lake Erie.

Now researchers are finding a better way of tracking that plastic, using computer models. And that will give cleanup crews a better idea of how to get that plastic out of the water.

Matthew Hoffman is an assistant professor in mathematical sciences at Rochester Institute of technology, and he has been tracking Lake Erie plastic for the past six years.

Hoffman’s study estimates five million pounds of plastic flows into Lake Erie each year. That is the equivalent of 335 million plastic bags, or 5.3 million 2-liter bottles.

Hoffman said, “It makes you think!” If you filled the Glass Bowl with all of the loose plastic such as bags and bottles that reach Lake Erie each year, it would cover the field 40 feet deep which is about the height of the goal posts.

Some of that plastic will flow through the lake, while other pieces will sink, get beached, or threaten wildlife.

Hoffman said, “It is clear, once the plastic is in the environment it is being ingested by wildlife.”

Partners for clean streams volunteers often see birds and fish tangled in plastic while cleaning the waterways. There is also some research that chemicals may leach out from plastic that starts to break down in the water and that could lower the quality of our drinking water.

Hoffman hopes that this new study will help bring more awareness to the Great Lakes plastic problem, and help volunteers track the trash as it washes ashore. That should help cleanup crew’s work more efficiently on getting the plastic out of the water.

A spokesperson for Partners for Clean Streams says the volunteers numbers are increasing and general awareness and concern for Lake Erie’s health is on the rise.

While you could get discouraged by seeing what is in our water, the young volunteers back on that cold and rainy April morning had more of a positive outlook when they thought about the future of our Great Lake.

Kania said, “I am looking forward to seeing what we can do some day.”

Organizers for Partners for Clean Streams are expecting nearly 1,000 volunteers to help pick up trash through the Toledo metro area for “Clean Your Streams Day” on September 23rd.

If you would like to help you can learn more at the link below.