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Confederation College students pull microplastics out of Chippewa Park beach in Thunder Bay

Nov 03, 2018 02:55PM ● By Editor
Students in the Environmental Technician course at Confederation College comb the beach at Chippewa Park in Thunder Bay, Ont., searching for microplastics. Photo: Confederation College

By Jeff Walters of CBC News - November 2, 2018

A project to show Confederation College students how much plastic is in Lake Superior ended up with students in disbelief as to how much garbage is found along the shoreline.

The students dug through the 220-metre sand beach at Chippewa Park in Thunder Bay, Ont., and collected as much microplastic as they could find.

"The students were extremely surprised at the amount of plastic pieces that were unidentifiable," said Shannon Costigan, a project supervisor with EcoSuperior.

"It's not like they were picking up plastic bottles or coffee cups and plastic lids or plastic straws; we were up on the beach picking up bits of plastic." 

Costigan said the pieces of microplastic are smaller than five millimetres and only resemble waste, not a specific object.

A handful of the microplastics found by Confederation College students at the Chippewa Park beach in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Confederation College)

She said it was difficult to tell how far the garbage had travelled, but it was obvious it had been in the water for a long period of time.

"So definitely evidence that the plastic had been in the water, that it had broken down over time into smaller pieces from what it had originated as and had come back on shore."

The lack of data on plastics in the Lake Superior basin is a challenge, said Costigan, and she hopes exercises like this one will put a more accurate estimate as to how much plastic waste is actually in the Great Lakes area.

Much of the sand collected by students is now in a lab and being analyzed for plastic that is not visible to the naked eye.

"A lot of people are really familiar with the idea of plastics in the oceans, and people have seen the impact of plastic in the ocean. When they see it, they think it's kind of an 'over there' type of problem," Costigan said.

"People have a difficult time localizing the issue to the waterways that we have here."

Costigan said there is another beach clean-up in the works for the spring, where volunteers will once again comb through sand and pick out plastic and help collect more data on how big the problem is around Lake Superior.


Jeff Walters - Reporter/Editor - CBC News

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.

To see the original article and read related stories, follow this link to the CBC News website.

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