Lake Michigan accounts for half of Great Lakes plastic pollution

Milwaukee contributes to annual 5,000 metric ton dump

About 5,000 metric tons of plastic goes into Lake Michigan each year, according to a new study by the Rochester Institute of Technology.

That’s half of the total 10,000 metric tons, or 22 million pounds, of plastic debris that enters the Great Lakes annually. Lake Michigan’s annual plastic pollution level is equivalent to 100 Olympic-sized pools of plastic bottles, according to “Inventory and transport of plastic debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes” by Matthew Hoffman, assistant professor in RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences.

The pollution is attributable to cities around the lakes, including Milwaukee, Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland and Detroit. The study included dense plastic that sinks to the bottom, as well as surface plastics including microbeads, fragments, pellets, plastic line and Styrofoam.

“Most of the particles from Chicago and Milwaukee end up accumulating on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, while the particles from Detroit and Cleveland end up along the southern coast of the eastern basin of Lake Erie,” Hoffman said. “Particles released from Toronto appear to accumulate on the southern coast of Lake Ontario, including around Rochester and Sodus Bay.”

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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