Think Global, Act Local: Collecting Litter and Data in Thunder Bay's Storm Drains

Think Global, Act Local: Collecting Litter and Data in Thunder Bay's Storm Drains, written for The Walleye

By Kennedy Bucci, Rethinking Waste Coordinator

Every year, a shocking seventy thousand pounds of plastic debris ends up in Lake Superior. As a major city on the shore of Lake Superior, we have a responsibility to protect our freshwater resource from further pollution. This summer, EcoSuperior is installing trash capture devices, called LittaTraps, into storm drains around the city. LittaTraps are filters that sit inside storm drains and passively collect debris from stormwater runoff. They act as a type of source control to catch litter before it reaches the aquatic environment.

Surface runoff is a major source of pollution to aquatic environments. As surface runoff travels along the hard surfaces in our watershed, it collects pollutants like oil, fertilizers, bacteria from pet waste, cigarette butts, and other plastics. Once in the environment, plastic slowly breaks up into tiny plastic pieces called microplastics – which will never truly disappear. Recently, fish in the Great Lakes were found to contain the highest number of microplastics ever reported: up to 915 particles found in a single fish, with an average of 60 particles per fish. Research has shown that microplastics at concentrations currently found in the Great Lakes can cause harm to fish, including causing developmental deformities, decreased energy and nutrient uptake, and changes to reproduction.

Storm drains are an important, though often overlooked, part of a city's infrastructure. Without storm drains, excess precipitation would pool on the ground, causing flooding in our streets and basements. During big rain events or spring snow melt, the soil in our environment can quickly become saturated with water. Urban areas have high levels of impervious surfaces, like asphalt and concrete, which means the available soil gets saturated even quicker. Rather than absorbing into the soil, excess precipitation becomes surface runoff and flows into our storm drains – which lead directly to rivers and lakes without treatment.

EcoSuperior's LittaTrap project will divert plastic pollution, including microplastics, from Lake Superior. We will also be collecting and monitoring the contents of the LittaTraps to help us measure our positive impact and give us a better understanding of local sources of pollution. With this information, we will be able to make recommendations to improve out waste management and mitigate plastic pollution in our city. Finally, we will be uploading the data to the International Trash Trapping Network, which is used by scientists and advocates around the world to inform plastic pollution research and mitigation efforts. Although they are often overlooked, the trash capture devices in our city's storm drains will play an instrumental role in keeping Lake Superior clean and informing the global fight against plastic pollution!

This project is funded by the City of Thunder Bay and the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks, and is delivered by EcoSuperior with additional support from the Council of Great Lakes Region and Stormwater 360 Group.



Posted in Read More by on 7/8/2024 11:09:27 AM
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