Trapping Trash in the Toronto Harbour

Even with perfect waste collection and management, some litter still reaches our waterways, where it can harm local wildlife and ecosystems. Through our visual audits we’ve seen the accumulation of over 1500 pieces of litter in some slips along the waterfront. To remove this litter and prevent it from further harming our aquatic ecosystems, we utilize trash capture devices.

Since 2019, with the addition of PortsToronto’s Seabins to the Outer Harbour Marina, we have been working with local stakeholders to deploy trash capture devices (trash traps) on the waterfront as part of the Toronto Inner Harbour Floatables Strategy.

Today, there is a family of Seabins at the Outer Harbour Marina, along Toronto’s Waterfront and on the Toronto Island. These ‘floating trash cans’ clean up litter from the waters’ surface by pumping water through a mesh bag that creates a vacuum and draws in debris floating by. We also have LittaTraps along Queens Quay. These traps sit in storm drains and capture litter before it flows into the lake.

Our role is to collect data on the quantity and characterization of the litter collected by the trash traps. In addition to helping us measure our positive impact, this data can inform policy by helping us understand local sources.

Waste Characterization

Our team analyzes litter captured by trash traps each season. In 2020 our team tested and refined our methods to develop two standard protocols, a simple and detailed waste characterization. These are both available through the International Trash Trap Network.


Summer 2022:

Our assessment analyzed the content from ten Seabins, ten LittaTraps, and surface water skimming from slips in the Toronto waterfront.

Summer 2021:

Our assessment analyzed the contents of six Seabins over a seven-week period. This included three Seabins at the Outer Harbour Marina, one at the Police Basin, and two at the Toronto Islands.

Summer 2020:

Our assessment analyzed the content from three Seabins and includes details of our new methodology.

Summer 2019:

Our first assessment analyzed the content from two Seabins deployed in the Outer Harbour Marina and our second assessment included two additional Seabins installed at Pier 6.

Data sharing: The International Trash Trap Network

All local data collected from our trash traps is shared with the International Trash Trap network (ITTN), a collaboration between the U of T Trash Team and Ocean Conservancy. The ITTN aims to increase global cleanup efforts and to quantify our collective impact as part of the International Coastal Cleanup™. We also aim to bring together local stakeholders to build trash trapping programs that will engage the community and inform upstream solutions.

If you work with a trash trapping device or are interested in learning more, email us at and visit the International Trash Trap Network to learn how you can join the network and increase your impact.

What’s Next?

Summer 2023

Our audits are continuing to further understand the quantities and types of floating litter in our harbour, and how these results can help implement upstream solutions. This will include waste characterization of trash traps.

Our family of Seabins will continue to grow and expand across the harbour with Seabins at Outer Harbour Marina and along the waterfront. We will also characterize waste collected from nearby LittaTraps.

We also plan to continue investigating floating litter in other areas of our waterfront by skimming litter from slips without trash traps and auditing what we find. This will inform priority locations for future mitigation.

Keep an eye out for members of our team along the waterfront and come say hello (we are the ones with raccoons on our shirts)!

Do you have a trash trapping device to fight floatables?

Visit the International Trash Trap Network to learn how you can collect data and measure your impact.

This project is in collaboration with PortsToronto, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, the City of Toronto, Swim Drink Fish, and Waterfront BIA, with additional support from Nieuport Aviation and the University of Toronto School of Cities.