Researchers Working to Reduce Micro-Plastics in the Great Lakes

“The Great Lakes really do function like small oceans and they’re just as important”

Plastic waste may be a bigger problem in the Great Lakes than we realize.

Researchers from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University met in Traverse City on Monday with the University Research Corridor. They discussed the impact that micro-plastic pollution has not just on the Great Lakes, but for us.

“We really need to recognize that the Great Lakes are a huge asset and that they need to be protected,” said Christine Crissman, executive director of The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay.

22 million pounds of plastic go into the Great Lakes every year. As researchers work to lower that number, the Watershed Center says the amount of trash in the bay increases every year.

“Overtime, the more people that we have, the more trash that we’re going to see and the more important it is for us to try and keep that out of our lakes,” said Crissman.

The micro-plastics found in the water can also be harmful to our health.

“We know historically that micro-plastics, one of the many issues, is that they can carry molecules that can be harmful or toxic to organisms, including in people,” said Dr. Rodrigo Fernandez-Valdivia, Professor at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

It’s estimated we swallow microscopic plastic materials that add up to a credit card a week.

“You can find it in food, as well as beverages, so you don’t know, you’re not aware of it, but you are actually ingesting micro-plastics,” said Fernandez-Valdivia.

Single-use plastics appear to be the biggest culprit.

“I think probably most people are most familiar with the plastic bags at grocery stores or other types of stores, having your own bag to use, using paper instead—could be a better choice, but it’s also single-use meaning little bags for sandwiches, bottled water,” said Dr. Britany Affolter-Caine, Executive Director of Michigan’s University Research Corridor.

State Senator Wayne Schmidt was present as well, and said he’s interested in the possibility of new legislation that promotes biodegradable plastics.

“This is where 20% of the freshwater is located and again, to have these major research institutions, puts us in the top ten in the country,” said Schmidt. “We want to make sure though, that we do something that’s affordable, that’s sustainable and is useable by the consumer too. We have this kind of scientific research going on in the state and we need to continue to fund it.”