The Great Lakes have some of world’s most concentrated plastic pollution

Read the full story at Great Lakes Echo.

Plastic pollutants circulate in pockets of the Great Lakes at concentrations higher than any other body of water on Earth, according to a recent State University of New York study.

The study is the first to look at plastic pollutants in the Great Lakes. It is part of a larger global endeavor to understand the origin and prevalence of plastic pollution in water and was conducted with the Los Angeles-based 5 Gyres Institute.

Although the results from this study have not yet been published, there are several recent research papers relating to plastics pollution, both in the Great Lakes and more generally. They include:

  • Hidalgo-Ruz, V. , Gutow, L. , Thompson, R.C. , Thiel, M.Microplastics in the marine environment: A review of the methods used for identification and quantification”(2012) Environmental Science and Technology, 46 (6), pp. 3060-3075. DOI: 10.1021/es2031505
  • Cole, M., Lindeque, P., Halsband, C., Galloway, T.S. “Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: A review” (2011) Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62 (12), pp. 2588-2597. DOI:
  • Zbyszewski, M., Corcoran, P.L. “Distribution and degradation of fresh water plastic particles along the beaches of Lake Huron, Canada.” (2011) Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, 220 (1-4), pp. 365-372. DOI: 10.1007/s11270-011-0760-6.
  • Andrady, A.L. “Microplastics in the marine environment.” (2011) Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62 (8), pp. 1596-1605. DOI:

For a more popular look at the issue of marine debris, take a look at Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author,Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn.

For a visualization of how big one such marine garbage patch is, see the BBC Dimensions website, which overlays the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over a map containing the zip/postal code of your choice.

Finally, to stay abreast of marine debris research at NOAA, check out their Marine Debris blog.


About Laura B.

Laura L. Barnes is ISTC's Sustainability Information Curator and Executive Director of the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLPPR). She also created and authors Environmental News Bits (
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