Fighting Floatables in the Toronto Harbour

The Toronto Harbour is a city favourite! It provides open green space with waterfront views, and is home to cultural events, live entertainment, and craft exhibits. Unfortunately, the beautiful scenery also comes along with something else… litter. We have reported litter coming down the Don River, floating in the Toronto Harbour, and in local wildlife. To better understand this issue and inform local solutions, we began a collaboration with PortsToronto and TRCA. Here, you’ll learn more about our local research projects and technological solutions to prevent and clean up floating plastic and other anthropogenic litter in our beloved harbour!

Tracking Trash on the Toronto Waterfront

To inform solutions, we aim to understand the sources and fate of floating litter on our local waterfront, i.e., how does our litter enter the water, how does it move from point A to point B, and where does it eventually accumulate? By answering these questions, we can inform policies aimed at upstream solutions and technologies to trap litter downstream before it enters Lake Ontario.

To help answer these questions, we are conducting a visual audit. We are quantifying and characterizing the standing stock of litter accumulating around docks and slips, or near local beaches. Throughout the summer, the U of T Trash Team will be walking along the waterfront between Ireland Park and Cherry Beach and canoeing through the Toronto Islands. Rain or shine, visual audits will be conducted to understand how the quantity and location of floating litter vary over time. The data we collect will inform local policies around waste and where trash trapping technology will be most effective in the Toronto Harbour. This summer, keep an eye out for the Trash Team. If you see us, come say hello (we are the ones with raccoons on our shirts)!

For results from our first summer, see here.  

Trapping Trash in the Toronto Harbour

Even with perfect waste collection and management, some litter still makes its way into our waterways. To prevent litter from contaminating and accumulating in Lake Ontario where it can harm our local wildlife and ecosystems, we can use technologies to trap litter and divert it. PortsToronto has been fighting the issue for years, removing between 400-900 metric tons of debris from entering the Toronto harbour each year.

Despite their best efforts, there is still large accumulations of debris along our waterfront, in our marinas and along the Islands. As a next step in cleaning our harbour, PortsToronto has installed Seabins. These ‘floating trash cans’ clean up litter on the surface by pumping water through a mesh bag. The pump creates a vacuum and draw in any debris floating by. Once the bin is full, the litter can be disposed of properly so it no longer pollutes our lake.

How a Seabin captures anthropogenic debris.

Last summer, as PortsToronto piloted a few Seabins, we conducted bin audits to investigate the litter captured. Our first assessment quantified and characterized litter from two bins deployed in the Outer Harbour Marina. Our second assessment included two more bins installed later in the season at Pier 6. The results of the second assessment are below and can be downloaded here

Do you have a trash trapping device to fight floatables in your city? Click here to find out more how you can collect data to measure your impact!

What’s next?

After the success of the 2019 Seabin pilot, PortsToronto plans to deploy many Seabins along the Toronto waterfront in spring of 2021. In preparation for next spring, we continue to audit the bins currently deployed at the Outer Harbour Marina. Our work this summer will be used to inform our methods for auditing, especially as we scale up!

This project is in collaboration with PortsToronto and TRCA, and supported by PortsToronto, Environment and Climate Change Canada and the National Geographic Society.

Environment and Climate Change Canada: Zero Plastic Waste