Seven Great Lakes communities collaborate on cleanup effort

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Some Michiganders are part of a multi-state effort this week to clean up and protect the Great Lakes.

The volunteer campaign involves seven Great Lakes communities, and is made possible through $300,000 in funding from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.



Heather Smith, Grand Traverse baykeeper for The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, explained each of the communities involved has been conducting its own annual cleanups, but the EPA Trash Free grant allows for broad collaboration.

"This is unique in that we have a number of organizations working across the basin," Smith noted. "So we're getting a lot of momentum to remove of the trash on our area beaches and in our near-shore waters that is certainly threatening habitat and drinking water sources."



The coalition hopes to remove 68 metric tons of trash from more than 17,000 acres of watershed by the end of 2022. A schedule of events can be found at greatlakescleanup.org.

Single-use cups, bags and other plastic items are commonly found along the shoreline.

Smith pointed out plastic pollution eventually forms microplastics, tiny plastic particles that are consumed by fish and now are present throughout the food chain.

"Plastic continues to degrade and break down by wave action and freezing and thawing and UV penetration to make them even smaller plastic particles that can be particularly troublesome because those plastics can be ingested by wildlife and even humans," Smith observed.

Smith added they're also finding many large trash items in the waters of the Great Lakes.

"Things like sections of docks or part of patio furniture, you name it," Smith remarked. "Anything that was near the water's edge during these high-water years, especially when we've had these intense storm events, things are getting swallowed by the lake, chewed up and redistributed across our shoreline."

The Great Lakes contain more than 21% of the world's fresh surface water and supply drinking water to 40 million people in the U.S. and Canada.

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