Taking Action on Shoreline Litter

Cleaning up the shorelines of Sir Casimir Gzowski Park.

On a warm spring day in May we carried out our annual team clean up at Sir Casimir Gzowski Park. This event is a special time to bond over our common passion for waste reduction while celebrating the Provincial Day of Action on Litter. As seasons change, it’s quite likely you’ve noticed the amount of litter that accumulates in the early spring once the snow melts. This is why it’s one of our favourite times of year to meet up and make a difference!

The forecast was calling for a warm day with not a cloud in the sky, and 23 eager volunteers showed up with a goal to cleanup as much litter as possible – and we did! Our total haul included more than 3,000 individual pieces of litter. Let’s take a closer look at what we uncovered.

What we found

As each group cleaned, we tallied our findings onto data cards and similar to past cleanups, our top 10 items had a lot of repeats with a high number of small plastics, cigarette butts, single-use products and packaging.

There were also some more unusual items found including parking tickets, a cat litter scoop, lots of individual plastic dental flossers, children’s toys and party favours.

Connecting cleanups to research

A really exciting connection for the day was a special task to seek out green and red coloured plastics to support research by Jacob in the Rochman Lab. In his Masters research, Jacob is focusing on the effects of plastic pollution on benthic macroinvertebrates and the influence of stream flow in altering their exposure to plastic. The plastics we collected will be added into a colour-coded plastic mixture of different polymer types and morphologies. The different coloured fragments are used to track and determine the different fates of the microplastics within the system.

Our reflections for the day

After a fun-filled day of cleaning, we celebrated over some much deserved pizza and reflected about our shared experiences.

What types of items were we expecting to find? After having the experience of collecting thousands of cigarette butts during A Greener Future’s Butt Blitz, it was very easy to notice cigarette butts scattered throughout the park. We also predicted that small plastic pieces, food wrappers and additional single-use products were the most common items we’d find during the cleanup.

Where do we think the items found traveled from? Our team was surprised by how many plastic dental flossers were littered in the park, which was close to nearby condos but not in a highly residential area. This led the team to believe that these products might have been uncovered by the snow melt or perhaps escaped from nearby garbage bins.

What were some interesting finds? There was one item we found that caught us by surprise, a very large amount of bright red paint flakes throughout the park, its source unknown. Our leading theory is they were old paint chips left behind from repainting nearby park equipment.

How you can help make a difference

When litter ends up in the environment, there are many negative impacts. Plastic pollution can be a hazard for wildlife who might accidentally ingest these materials or become entangled in them. Different forms of plastic pollution also start to break down and can easily accumulate in areas, which can be a problem for the ecosystem.

Written by Justin Konik, U of T student and volunteer with the U of T Trash Team and Susan Debreceni, Program Lead Volunteer Engagement and Community Programs.

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