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Reducing Plastics in the Great Lakes

Dec 9, 2019 | Informed Citizens, Old Woman Creek, Ohio, Reserves, What We Work For

Attendees of a plastics reduction workshop at Old Woman Creek Reserve construct recycling bins for monofilament fishing line. Fishing line — and other single-use plastics — are a growing concern for Lake Erie communities.

Plastic pollution doesn’t discriminate—it’s a challenge for our oceans and our Great Lakes, which receive 22 million pounds of plastic trash each year. The problem has become a priority for Lake Erie communities.

“By reducing plastics and debris we improve our water quality; we know that water is our region’s greatest natural resource,” said Patekka Pope Bannister, Commissioner of Plant Operations in the City of Toledo’s Division of Water Treatment.

In response, Emily Kuzmick from the Old Woman Creek Reserve’s Coastal Training Program is working with the city and other partners to identify collaborative, innovative ways to meet the challenge. In May of this year, the Reserve co-hosted a workshop on plastics reduction at the request of the City of Toledo’s Division of Environmental Services

Held at the Bay View Yacht Club—a certified Ohio Clean Marina—the workshop convened citizens, business operators, and members of the public and private sectors. They discussed issues such as single-use restaurant items such as straws and monofilament fishing line. Speakers came from the City of Cleveland Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the NOAA Great Lakes Marine Debris Program, the City of Toledo, Partners for Clean Streams, and Ohio Sea Grant. Workshop attendees also constructed monofilament fishing line recycling bins and conducted a coastal cleanup using NOAA marine debris monitoring protocol.

“Emily Kuzmick and the Old Woman Creek [OWC] Reserve were paramount in assisting the City of Toledo with an informative and interactive afternoon,” said Marisa Stewart, a senior environmental specialist for the City of Toledo. “She coordinated multiple, knowledgeable, presenters who provided fun hands-on experiences to make the workshop even more interesting. Thanks to volunteers and funds from OWC, the workshop was free, and as a result, we were able to reach many people.”

Kuzmick’s work is part of a larger plastics reduction working group in Northern Ohio that involves a partnership of municipalities, agencies, and nonprofits.

“Having municipal, nonprofit, and business partners helps us integrate our program within larger, related initiatives,” she says. “For example, we are hoping to integrate other regional initiatives, like the Surfrider Foundation’s Great-Lakes Friendly Restaurants, into future workshops with associated partners to give businesses more tangible solutions to and rewards for reducing single-use plastic waste.”

The workshop shared alternatives to single-use plastics, such as metal straws, reusable cutlery, and canvas bags.

Every Reserve’s Coastal Training Program is designed around the needs of local communities and decision makers, and increased understanding of marine debris has become an environmental literacy target for the Old Woman Creek Reserve.

“We look at educational and outreach gaps for different communities to set our program goals,” says Kuzmick. “The fact that marine debris is not just an oceanic issue is something that people really need to hear.”

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What We Work ForInformed CitizensReducing Plastics in the Great Lakes