Plastic pollution in freshwater and marine ecosystems is increasing across the globe. Last year, it was estimated that roughly 30 million tonnes of plastic waste entered our aquatic ecosystems. If we continue business as usual, this number may increase as much as three-fold by 2030—in less than one decade.
There is no time to waste, and we all must do our part
To prevent the devastating impact of plastic pollution, we must implement diverse mitigation strategies today, including reduction of plastics, more sustainable waste management and cleanup. Even as countries ban single-use plastics and increase their waste management, cleanup will continue to be an essential part of the solution toolbox. And if we really want to significantly reduce the amount of plastic ending up in our waters, then we must increase our level of cleanup by orders of magnitude—in order to meet our target cleanup goal at least 1 billion people would have to participate in Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup each year. So how can we increase our cleanup effort, and do it substantially?
The answer, in part: trash trapping technologies! These devices work around the clock to make a huge impact: Mr. Trash Wheel in Baltimore harbour can collect up to 38,000 pounds of trash in a single day. Not only do they help us remove plastic directly from our waterways, but they are also a research tool. By collecting data, like the types and amount of plastics these devices capture, we can quantitatively measure our impact and inform local source-reduction. They are also an incredible way to raise awareness and can easily become a centrepiece for education and outreach, like Mr. Trash Wheel, who inspires imagination and local solutions in the Baltimore community.
Together, the U of T Trash Team and Ocean Conservancy are developing a trash trapping network to increase the impact of the International Coastal Cleanup. We aim to bring together stakeholders from across the world with a shared interest in the collective power of trash traps to share data and best practices. To launch our network, we are hosting a virtual workshop, along with PortsToronto, that is free and open to the public.
Part of our mission is to work locally to make a difference globally. At our “Trapping Trash and Diverting it from our Waterways” workshop, we aim to motivate local groups of stakeholders to come together to form a more impactful, global collective. We will provide the recipe for success, and share our tools for harmonized data collection to enable each team to quantify their individual impact and share it within the International Coastal Cleanup global database.
If we truly combine our efforts to strengthen the volume of plastic waste cleaned up around the world, we can make a measurable difference. And we can do it better together.
Written by Chelsea Rochman, Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, co-founder of the University of Toronto Trash Team and Scientific Advisor to the Ocean Conservancy.