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All About Seabins at the Toronto Waterfront

All About Seabins at the Toronto Waterfront

Have you ever wondered where your plastic goes when you throw it out? I bet you never thought it would end up in Lake Ontario! Unfortunately a lot of that plastic ends up in the beautiful Toronto waterfront.

The University of Toronto Trash Team is a team of hardworking individuals focused on making the Toronto waterfront more eco-friendly and beautiful. They are focused on increasing trash literacy and fighting plastic pollution. The team is a partnership with the U of T School of Cities, PortsTorontoTRCA and several City of Toronto divisions, with support from Swim Drink FishHarbourfront Centre and the Waterfront BIA.

This summer the U of T Trash Team will be out on the Toronto waterfront daily to help take care of the newly installed Seabins! These ‘floating trash cans’ clean up litter from the waters’ surface by pumping water through a mesh bag that creates a vacuum and draws in debris floating by. The Seabins are funded in partnership with the WBIA, PortsToronto & the City of Toronto BIA Innovation Fund.

I chatted with two members of the U of T Trash Team to learn more about this cool eco-friendly and sustainable initiative below! If you see them on the Toronto waterfront be sure to say hi!

U of T Trash Team Seabins in Lake Ontario with a shadow of a person holding the peace sign
Picture of a seabin in the Police Basin

How did you end up working on the Toronto waterfront this summer?

We joined the Trash Team last winter! We then found out about the seabins program happening this summer and wanted to be a part of it.

Picture of large debris caught in the Seabin in a ziploc bag
Large debris found trapped in the seabin that day

So what does emptying the seabins involve?

We empty the seabins daily on the Toronto waterfront. We remove all the debris and start to categorize the different things we find. We spread it out all on a tarp and go through it with tweezers. We pick out the tiny microplastics we find hidden in the seaweed and debris. We then record different data like the weight, quantity and characterization of the litter collected.

Whoa! I had no idea there was pieces of plastic that tiny floating around the Toronto waterfront! What have the counts been like so far?

Depends on the day. Today we have so much large debris.

U of T Trash Team member searches through a box of seaweed and debris found in the seabin
Zoe from the U of T Trash Team searches through a bin of debris found in the seabin

Is that from people being careless?

It depends. You get a lot of litter in the water from the street and from flying out of the garbage cans, especially when the bins are too full. Everyone just kind of stuffs their garbage in and hopes for the best.

A hand in purple gloves holds up a tiny piece of plastic with tweezers
Microplastic found in the seaweed during sorting

What are those small plastic beads you are pulling out of the seaweed?

Those are actually the tiny microplastics that are floating in Lake Ontario. They are essentially the building products of any plastic product that you have. They get melted down and transferred to different shapes. When plastic spends time in the water, it essentially erodes down to these tiny beads. Like if you were to put a brick of styrofoam in the water, it would break down over time but it doesn’t disappear – it just becomes really tiny.

A hand holds up a clear container with a yellow lid holding tiny yellow beads
Microplastics caught in the seabins

Wow I had no idea! What are you planning on doing with the microplastic collected from these seabins?

We are working with a resident artist, Emily Chudnovsky, who comes to take all the plastic we collect and she will repurpose it into an art installation planned for next summer. She also has other projects on the go as well like creating baskets sealed with pine resin using cigarette butts.

Various microplastics, plastic debris, styrofoam and more displayed on a blue tarp
Various microplastics, debris, styrofoam and more collected from the seabin

Do you end up putting the seaweed back in the water when you’re done sorting?

That’s a good question! Most people do assume we put it back – and I would have too. However, because everything is so tedious and there is so much plastic it’s pretty much impossible for us to remove it all. We sort through it multiple times, including rinsing, and it’s still not possible to get it all out.

U of T Trash Team students organize Seabin contents on a table
Zoe and Ashlyn sort through seabin contents

I had no idea! Where can people find more information about what you are doing or how to get involved?

Check out the U of T Trash Team website and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter! You can also ask us questions if you see us out on the Toronto waterfront this summer.

My last question – will you do a Tik Tok with me?

@thewaterfrontbia The U of T Trash Team is on the waterfront this sunmer helping out Dory & her friends 🐟🐠 #belairdirectdrivechallenge #AtTheWaterfront #torontolife #torontotiktok #ecofriendly #trashpanda #waterfront #sustainability ♬ Hi I’m Dory! – strawbwearyzvsp

Learn about the other U of T Trash team programs here. See you out at the Toronto waterfront this summer!!

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