The Great Lakes and the Impacts of Plastic Pollution

For those living in the Upper Midwest, the Great Lakes are a way of life, from fishing and other water activities to vacation destinations and serene sunrises and sunsets. And the lakes are much more than recreational! The Great Lakes also make up the largest source of freshwater on the planet — at more than 20% of our fresh water.   

  • Lake Superior – the largest and coldest of the Great Lakes – reaches depths of more than 1300 feet. 
  • All 5 Great Lakes together make up more than 5,400 cubic miles of water. That’s 6 quadrillion gallons. That’s a lot of water. 
  • More than 30,000,000 people rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water – in both Canada and the United States. 

From the drinking water for more than 10,000,000 United States citizens to the habitat for more than 170 different species of fish — along with countless other types of marine life — the Great Lakes are a source of nourishment and life for animals and people alike. Many efforts have been made to preserve these vital ecosystems. However, years upon years of neglect within our manufacturing practices along with many bad habits and careless activities by all of us have had a massive impact. And it’s not something that can be ignored. 

  • More than 22 million pounds of plastic pollution end up in the Great Lakes every year. 
  • There are approximately 112,000 micro-particles of plastic per square mile of Great Lakes water. 

The pollutant particles that float through the water end up looking like food particles to fish, who then consume them. They often times stay in the digestive tract of the animal and act as sponges, undigested and absorbing poisons and toxins in the water. They end up staying in their bodies, being consumed by larger fish that are higher up on the food chain. Often times ending up in our food. 

From a water consumption standpoint, the story is the same. 

These microscopic pieces of plastic entered the Great Lakes through our wastewater. They made it through the water treatment and wastewater filtration systems because of their size (microplastics measure less than 5mm in length, with some of them virtually invisible). And when our water filtration systems pump water back into our treatment plants, those same microscopic pollutants will slip through the filtration media once again. It puts plastic into our drinking water. 

As you look at the fish lining the shelves at the supermarket, the beer on tap at your favorite brewery, or the water that’s being used for drinking and cooking, consider all that you’re not seeing. And while the problem is massive and the impacts are still being assessed, it’s worth considering the urgency of this matter. The more that we take seriously today the impact of plastic on the Great Lakes, the more we can start moving the needle on plastic pollution. 

Join Us at Filtrol as we work to stop plastic from entering the Great Lakes.