Small, simple actions can have large impact

A plastic bag floats down the Cuyahoga River toward Lake Erie. Plastic is broken down by sunlight and waves into small particles that absorb toxins and can be mistaken for food by fish. Photo by Patrick McGannon

Everyone can take part in a beach clean-up every single day. A single human can have a huge impact on the health of our beautiful Lake Erie by picking up litter anywhere, anytime. Litter on our streets, in our yards, and in our parks easily ends up in the lake by getting into the storm sewer grates on the street, or getting blown directly into the lake or a tributary river or stream. 

In 2012, Dr. Sherri “Sam” Mason, a professor at SUNY Fredonia, led the first ever Great Lakes plastic pollution survey. What she found was that Lake Erie contained twice the amount of plastic pollution than was previously found in the most contaminated ocean sample. Lake Erie was also found to have 56 times more plastic pollution than any other Great Lake! There are a few theories on why this is, including the fact that Erie has the most populated shoreline of the Great Lakes and that three Great Lakes (Superior, Huron and Michigan) all flow into Erie, contributing more plastic pollution.

Plastic litter that ends up in the lake is eventually broken down by sunlight and waves, which turns it into small particles. These particles will never biodegrade or go away; they will always be there. Plastic particles absorb toxins in the lake, and the fish mistake them for food. In any environment (lake, ocean or landfill), plastic will not biodegrade like other material such as wood and paper. Every single piece of plastic ever made is still present on earth today, in one form or another. Even when recycled, plastic is made into more plastic, which will end up in our landfills or waterways eventually.

Over 300 million tons of plastic is produced yearly, and 50 percent of plastic is used just once and then disposed of. It is no wonder that so much of it is ending up in Lake Erie.

A fun way to get family and friends involved is to check out This website has a lot of information about plastic pollution, and outlines fun ways to get involved. The project's goal is to encourage people to think beyond structured clean-up days and consider how they can help prevent plastic pollution with two hands and 30 minutes, any day of the year. You can even take pictures of your group and what you find and post it on their Facebook page. But remember, this is not necessary. Just the simple act of picking up any trash you find in your daily routine will have great impact on the health of Lake Erie!

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Volume 8, Issue 3, Posted 9:53 AM, 02.02.2016