More and more now, we hear the words microplastics and microfibers in the news, in classrooms, and in conversation with friends and family. Beaches covered in plastic bottles and fishing nets, turtles tangled in plastic wrapped, birds that have plastic in their stomachs; the list of plastic-related damage is very long. The plastic problem in the Georgian Bay Biosphere can be harder to see at times, but unfortunately it is something we also have to address in our region.
Did you know that every time a piece of plastic enters a waterway never fully degrades? It will always exist in our environment unless we remove it.
What are Microplastics?
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that are broken down from larger pieces of plastic over time. Microplastics range from teeny tiny (need a microscope to see) sized pieces of plastic, to pieces easily seen with the naked eye.
Larger pieces of plastic often enter the environment through littering and pollution. For example, if a plastic fork gets tossed into a lake it is a macroplastic (macro means big, micro means small). Over time, it will break down into smaller pieces and smaller bits. The plastic will continue to get smaller to a point in which it can be consumed by different species, and with time will make its way through the food web to our dinner plates. When a species consumes microplastics it causes physical stress to their digestive system as well as issues from the chemicals that are absorbed in their bodies. Humans are impacted by this as well, the fish we eat often contains a significant amount of plastic and toxins.
What are Microfibers?
Microfibers are the most common type of microplastic, but you might hear about them less in part because they are harder to see.
Microfibers are mainly the by-product of the textile, or clothing, industry, especially synthetic fabrics made from plastics. Microfibers have a large impact on aquatic species and water quality. The majority of the microfiber pollution is from single-use plastics and washing clothing without filter systems to stop them from being released into lakes, rivers, and oceans.
Textiles often have various chemicals used in production, such as dyes and treatments that are not universally regulated. Chemicals can also leach out of the fibers and into our water.
Microplastic and Microfibers in Georgian Bay
In 2019, Georgian Bay Forever partnered with the University of Toronto to conduct a study of microplastics and microfibers in Parry Sound. The study measures the number of microplastics and microfibers released from washing machines. The study called “ Divert & Capture: The fight to keep microplastics out of our water” aims to divert microplastics and microfibers entering Georgian Bay, get communities together for shoreline clean ups, and help educate people on microplastics.
The study followed 100 houses in Parry Sound that volunteered to use washing machine filters to collect microfibers and microplastics that would otherwise end up in Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay Forever weights and measure how much has been successfully collected.
Around 90% of microplastics and fibers are captured and removed during the water treatment process, leaving 10% to drain back into the water. This may not seem like a lot but it has a bigger impact than you think!
To help combat this issue, Georgian Bay Forever researched different types of technology to help stop these fibers from getting back into waterways. More technology and more universal filters are needed to help improve this. The research helps to outline how many microfibers can be diverted from the waters in Georgian bay and give us an idea of how much has already made its way into our systems.
We Need You!
There are many ways you can help to reduce microplastics in the Georgian Bay Biosphere.
- Reduce your overall plastic use – here are 10 tips!
- Avoid buying new clothing you don’t need, or synthetic materials
- Participate in local cleanups
- Reduce the use of your washing machine, can you wear something more than once?
- Attach a microfiber filter to your washing machine
- Research what is recyclable in your region
Community Clean Up
See what you can do to tackle in plastic pollution problem in your community! Every little bit helps!
Next time you are out for a hike, headed to the beach, or just strolling through your neighbourhood, bring a garbage bag with you and pick up litter you find. Separate out the recyclable materials with those that go to the landfill and properly dispose of them once you are finished. Make sure to be cautious with what you are picking up, and bring gloves just in case.
By helping to pick up these larger macroplastics you are stopping them from continuing to breakdown into smaller pieces in the environment and impacting the health of Georgian Bay!