Illinois Sustainable Technology Center - University of Illinois

Great Lakes Plastic Pollution Survey 2012

Presented by Dr. Sherri Mason - Associate Professor of Chemistry, SUNY College at Fredonia

November 7, 2013

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Since the 'discovery' of an accumulation of microplastics in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre in 1999 and recent events such as the 2011 Japanese Tsunami, marine debris has received increased attention and public awareness. To date, however, research and even public media campaigns have focused upon oceanic systems. Globally, the salt-water environs of our oceans do dominate the earth's surface, but that water cycles through freshwater systems as it makes its way from sky to sea, accumulating our trash along the way. UN reports suggest that 80% of the oceanic debris comes from land, and it is perpetually postulated that litter makes its way to the oceans by way of freshwater systems, such as rivers and lakes.

The Great Lakes represent the largest freshwater ecosystem in world and directly feed into the North Atlantic Ocean. Within the Great Lakes watershed there live 35 million people, most (if not all) of whom use and lose plastic. During the summer of 2012 we conducted the first-ever survey for plastic pollution within the Great Lakes system. We present here the results of our expedition, as well as a comparison to surveys conducted in the North Atlantic Gyre.

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