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Study says 10,000 metric tons of plastic enter Great Lakes

Rochester Business Journal
December 20, 2016

Rochester Institute of Technology researchers estimate 10,000 metric tons, or some 22 million pounds, of plastic enter the Great Lakes annually, according to a new study.

“This study is the first picture of the true scale of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes,” said Matthew Hoffman, assistant professor in RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences and the lead author of “Inventory and transport of plastic debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes.”

The article will run in an upcoming issue of Marine Pollution Bulletin, officials said.

Hoffman and co-author Eric Hittinger, assistant professor of public policy at RIT, report that half of the plastic pollution entering the Great Lakes—5,000 metrics tons per year—goes into Lake Michigan, followed by Lake Erie with 2,500 metric tons and Lake Ontario with 1,400 metric tons. Lake Huron receives 600 metric tons of plastic and Lake Superior, 32 metric tons per year, their findings show.

Plastic pollution in Lake Michigan is approximately the equivalent of 100 Olympic-size pools full of plastic bottles dumped into the lake every year whereas the yearly amount of plastic in Lake Ontario equates to 28 Olympic-sized pools full of plastic bottles, Hittinger said.

Plastic in the Great Lakes are carried by persistent winds and lake currents to the shore, often washing up in another state or country, the study found. The new study applied mathematical modeling for the first time to extend the scope of the problem over time and spatial scales.

Major population centers are the primary sources of plastic pollution in the Great Lake system, with Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland and Detroit releasing more plastic particles than accumulate on their shorelines, Hoffman said.

“Most of the particles from Chicago and Milwaukee end up accumulating on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, while the particles from Detroit and Cleveland end up along the southern coast of the eastern basin of Lake Erie,” he said. “Particles released from Toronto appear to accumulate on the southern coast of Lake Ontario, including around Rochester and Sodus Bay.”

Follow Kerry Feltner on Twitter: @KerryFeltner

(c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail

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