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 traps on the waterfront as part of the Toronto Inner Harbour Floatables Strategy.

Today, there is a family of Seabins at the Outer Harbour and along Toronto’s Waterfront. 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 Osprey Litter Booms and LittaTraps along Queens Quay. The booms are a floating barrier designed to prevent litter from continuing to float downstream. LittaTraps 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 these 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.

Learn more about how our methodology for quantifying and characterizing litter was developed.


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.

Do you have a trash trapping device to fight floatables?

Email us at and visit the International Trash Trap Network to learn how you can collect data and measure your impact.

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

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 the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the University of Toronto School of Cities, and Nieuport Aviation.