Toronto trash traps capture kilos of waste from harbour

From May through October 2023, PortsToronto’s network of trash traps, which includes eight Seabins and two WasteSharks, removed 43 kg of litter, including 62,996 pieces of small plastic pollution from the Toronto Harbour.

PortsToronto and the University of Toronto Trash Team released the results of the 2023 Trash Trapping Program’s research season this week.

“Floating debris and plastic pollution in the water is not a problem unique to Toronto. We know that this is an issue prevalent in urban waterways around the world. What is unique about Toronto is that we have a coalition of like-minded organizations that have come together to find innovative solutions that leverage new technology and local research and trades to help make a difference,” said RJ Steenstra, president and CEO of PortsToronto.

The collected pollutants include items such as plastic pellets, pieces of foam from food containers, plastic bottle caps, cigarette butts and fatbergs.

Tiny debris, including microplastics (items smaller than five-millimetres) remain by far the most common items by count collected by Seabins. Plastic items in the environment eventually break down into microplastics (often irregularly shaped small fragments), which can make it difficult to determine their origins. This year the research team has begun to see signs of a decrease in the amount of microplastics collected in PortsToronto Seabins, which could suggest the benefits of additional outreach and education efforts toward waste reduction. PortsToronto Seabins are deployed at four locations on the Toronto waterfront and at the Outer Harbour Marina.

WasteSharks at work in Toronto Harbour.

WasteSharks, which are equipped with a large catch basin, captured mostly large plastic fragments – including large pieces of foam from construction and food containers, hard plastic fragments, as well as plastic water bottles, caps, cups, lids and straws. Data also revealed that fatbergs were within the top ten most commonly found items in both the Seabins and the WasteSharks.

In August 2023, PortsToronto launched a pilot program with two WasteShark aquadrones. This pilot program represented a Canadian first for these innovative trash traps, which are remotely operated and skim the surface of the water to collect floating debris. Over the course of only three expeditions in October 2023, the Toronto WasteSharks “Ebb and Flow” collected 19.2 kilograms of floating trash, including nearly 600 pieces of microplastics.

With a larger capacity and remote controlled agility, the Toronto WasteSharks are able to collect a higher volume of debris in a shorter period, collecting nearly the same amount as all the Seabins combined over the entire field season. These can also be piloted into problem areas such as the corners of slips where we know that debris and other material can accumulate.

Since 2019, PortsToronto and the University of Toronto Trash Team have collaborated on the Trash Trapping Program, which employs trash trapping technology and solutions-based research to tackle floating debris in the Toronto Harbour. Through this program, researchers measure and analyse the debris and plastic pollution collected by trash traps in order to track trends in floating debris, determine the source of the material and use data to identify upstream solutions.

This data and key findings and shared in order to raise awareness and encourage behavioural and policy change that could help reduce and prevent floating debris in Toronto’s Harbour.

The PortsToronto Trash Trapping Program is part of the Toronto Inner Harbour Floatables Strategy (Floatables Strategy), which is a collaborative strategy with a mission to reduce plastic pollution and other floating litter in the harbour. The Floatables Strategy incorporates additional methods of and locations for capturing floating debris, including storm drains.