Clean Marinas Helping to Keep Lake Michigan Trash Free

Floating trash bin on Lake Michigan

Photo Credit: The Daily Telegraph

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh have received a grant to install Seabins, innovative plastic pollution capture devices, at three Wisconsin Clean Marinas. An estimated 22 million pounds of plastic enter the waters of the Great Lakes each year. However, plastic pollution technologies, like the Seabin, are boosting the outlook for how we can alleviate this issue. With over 1,400 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, the project is a great opportunity to test this promising new technology. 

A floating trash bin, the Seabin is powered by an onshore electrical outlet and fixed to a floating dock where it skims the surface of the water, pumping water into the device while capturing debris like cups, bags, straws and even microscopic pieces of plastic. It can also be equipped with an oil-absorbent pad to soak up gasoline and detergents on the surface. The bin can collect over 8 pounds of debris a day or 1.4 tons a year. It’s also made of 100% recycled material. 

The project is part of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and is working under two initiatives, the Great Lakes Circular Economy Partnership and the Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup (GLPC), an initiative that launched the largest deployment of litter and plastic catching technology along Canada’s Great Lakes coast. The GLPC installed capture devices at 21 participating public and private marinas, ranging from Lake Superior to Lake Ontario, and are now expanding to several states, including Wisconsin coastal communities. To be distributed among marinas are Seabins, as well as installations of fishing line recycling bins at several sites. 

These fishing line recycling bins are another way to keep waterways clean. Monofilament fishing line, a popular type of fishing line used by Lake Michigan anglers, can be collected in these recycling bins and kept out of the water where it can entangle wildlife or be digested. 

“The health of Great Lakes waters are critical to the economy, culture, and vitality of the Great Lakes region and the entire United States and Canada,” said Dr. Gregory Kleinheinz, director of the UW-Oshkosh Environmental Research and Innovation Center. “Partnering with marinas, municipalities and private groups, we are excited to help be part of this solution for northeast Wisconsin and northern Lake Michigan. UW-Oshkosh is excited to be a partner with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Trash Free waters grant recipient to find solutions to trash in the Great Lakes. This work will build on the other great Lake Michigan work our students, staff, and faculty have done over the past 20 years.” 

UW-Oshkosh research interns will be monitoring the contents caught in the devices daily. Characterizing the types of plastic debris that are found in the bins will provide insights into what is entering the waterways and the scale of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. This information can be used to develop strategies on how to curb specific sources of plastic pollution as well as spread awareness. Educating marinas and coastal communities about plastic pollution while encouraging recycling and prevention of marine debris is another major outcome of the project. 

In addition to the Seabins, UW-Oshkosh was also awarded funds to purchase a trash collection boat through the U.S. EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Trash Free waters grant program. The boat is expected to travel around the harbors of Sturgeon Bay, the Fox River and bay of Green Bay, and Manitowoc. The Seabins will be installed at the selected marinas this fall or at the beginning of the boating season in spring. An additional bin will also be placed in the Fox River at the UWO 

Environmental Research and Innovation dock. The fishing line recycling bins may be distributed to marinas this fall. Another opportunity through the Keep America Beautiful grant program may provide six additional Seabins to the equation. 

“Reducing plastic pollution in the Great Lakes seems like something everyone can get on board with and at Wisconsin marinas, this means that cleaner waters are on the horizon,” said Kleinheinz.