More than three million pounds of garbage ends up in Lake Ontario every year according to a recent study by Matthew Hoffman and Eric Hittinger at RIT.
Hoffman is an assistant professor at the school of mathematical sciences at RIT and uses his background in weather modeling to track trash across the Great Lakes. “If you just look at the populations,” said Hoffman, “You would probably estimate that there would be a few thousand pounds of trash floating in Lake Ontario.”
He says a large portion of small plastic comes down to Lake Ontario from other lakes and streams. The trash can sometimes form islands on the lake, but do not stick around for long.
“We did not see them at all in our models. You do see these small periods of time where you do see accumulations, but you get strong wind events that wipe that out, so you don’t get accumulations in the middle, what that means is probably more of that ends up on the shores,” said Hoffman.
A good portion of trash sinks and ends up at the bottom of the lake. Some of this can be eaten by fish and cause problems with the ecosystem.
“A lot of the trash breaks down over time and that’s adding nutrients to the water body,” said Paul Sawyko, coordinator of the Water Education Collaborative. “Depending on what the objects are, could add dyes and other chemicals that could be toxic to certain organisms.”
He coordinates clean ups every spring and fall with one main message. “People need to clean up after themselves. That’s the bottom line. Too much litter. They just let it go. They really just need to clean up after themselves and it helps out a lot,” said Sawyko.
Certain steps have been taken to slow down the flow of trash into lakes and oceans. One of those is a federal ban on micro beads in beauty products to take place on July 1, 2017.