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, our partner PortsToronto has led the deployment of trash capture devices, Seabins specifically, in the Toronto Harbour. 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. Our role is to collect data on the quantity and characterization of the litter collected by the bins. In addition to helping us measure our positive impact, this data can inform policy by helping us understand local sources.

Waste Characterization

Our team has analyzed litter captured by Seabins each season. In 2020 our team tested and refined our methods to develop two standard protocols:

1) Simple Daily Quantification

2) Deep Dive Analysis


Summer 2019:

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

Summer 2020:

Our assessment analyzed the content from 3 bins and includes details of our new methodology.

What’s Next?

Summer 2021

Our Seabin audits continue to further understand the quantities and types of floating litter in our harbour, and how these results can help implement upstream solutions. This year, our family of bins will grow and expand across the harbour. We also plan on investigating the importance aquatic macrophytes have in collecting and accumulating floating litter in our harbour, and whether they play a significant role as a natural mechanism for capturing litter, specifically microplastics.

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 and TRCA, and supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada and the National Geographic Society.