Resources | Plastic Pollution
A study team from Western University prepared this report for the Coastal Centre on ‘Assessing and Mitigating Plastic Pollution in Lake Huron.’
Plastic pollution has been identified as an emerging issue on Lake Huron, first through data from beach cleanups, second from incidences of plastic pellet spills, and third, from research on open lake pollution by plastic. The results illustrate the severity of the problem, and suggests some ways the issue can be pursued at the local and regional levels.
The emerging issue of Great Lakes plastic pollution is a threat to the ecological and economic health and stability of the Great Lakes. Plastic debris has the capacity to adversely affect aquatic environments in a variety of ways that directly affects socio-economic and environmental interests. It is a problem on local shorelines that directly affects both municipalities and the general public.
Information on the extent of the issue in marine environments is well documented and researched, while freshwater environments have received little attention. Current research on Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie proposes that plastic concentrations observed exceed data collected in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Recognized as a significant resource for both American and Canadian interests, the health of the Great Lakes is important for a variety of social, economic, and environmental factors.
This report has been compiled through researching and summarizing available information on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Realizing a lack of information and research dedicated to freshwater plastic pollution, findings have been compared against documented plastic pollution occurrences in oceans. The potential impacts on aquatic and terrestrial wildlife have been considered through literature research and communication with different academic researchers. Ideas have been proposed to best engage municipalities and the public along with best practices towards addressing freshwater plastic pollution.
Further research is imperative in understanding the full extent of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Current scientific research on plastic pollution in freshwater systems is limited. While the extensive collection of available literature on plastic pollution in oceans can be used to as comparable framework, it is important for future researchers to address the freshwater knowledge gaps. This includes the specific effects and extent of the problem in freshwater ecosystems. Within Lake Huron, it is necessary to determine the sources of microplastic pollution, the specific effects on aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, and the chemical effects of plastic in the freshwater environment.