Trash Traps in PortsToronto Network Remove 43kg and Nearly 63,000 Small Pieces of Plastic Pollution from Toronto Harbour in 2023

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. (CNW Group/PortsToronto)

TORONTO, /CNW/ – PortsToronto and the University of Toronto Trash Team are proud today to release the official results of the 2023 Trash Trapping Program’s research season. From May through October 2023, PortsToronto’s network of trash traps, which includes eight Seabins and two WasteSharks, removed 43kg of litter, including 62,996 pieces of small plastic pollution from the Toronto Harbour. This includes items such as plastic pellets, pieces of foam from food containers, plastic bottle caps, cigarette butts and fatbergs1.

2023 Results and Findings

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, using the same methodology, 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.

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.


1 These rock-like masses are formed by the combination of fat, grease and wastewater materials, including wet wipes and diapers, that are released with wastewater redirected to the lake during heavy rainfall.

Background of Program

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. To view detailed data, results and mitigation strategies identified during the 2023 research season, please consult the U of T Trash Team’s website.

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. Further detail and waste characterization results can be found here.

Follow along with us on social media @PortsToronto and @Sharks_TO, and view a video summary of our 2023 Trash Trapping Program season, here.


“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,” says RJ Steenstra, President and CEO of PortsToronto. “Thank you to all partners who have contributed to the Trash Trapping Program’s progress thus far. We look forward to continuing this important work for years to come.”

“Our collaboration with PortsToronto is invaluable,” said Dr. Chelsea Rochman, Head of Operations at the U of T Trash Team. “Together, we make a huge impact in our community. We clean the inner harbour. We collect data to inform upstream solutions. We increase waste literacy among the public. And, we provide summer jobs to many students that provide training in science and application.”

Fast Facts

  • Researchers estimate that 10,000 metric tonnes of waste enter the Great Lakes each year, much of it plastic.
  • A common occurrence in urban waterways, floating debris comes from a variety of sources – including overflowing or windblown trash bins at the water’s edge, storm water runoff and industry.
  • Anthropogenic (originating from human activity) debris, and microplastics in particular can harm wildlife and contaminate drinking water, and negatively impact public enjoyment of cherished shared water resources.
  • Since the Trash Trapping Program’s launch in summer 2019, Seabins in the PortsToronto network have removed hundreds of thousands of pieces of plastic debris from the Toronto Harbour, moving the needle toward cleaner water in Lake Ontario.
  • PortsToronto Seabins are deployed at four locations on the Toronto waterfront and at the Outer Harbour Marina (4).
  • In 2023, PortsToronto launched a pilot program with two WasteShark aquadrones, known as the Toronto WasteSharks, Ebb and Flow.
  • The WasteShark aquadrone is designed to skim the surface of the water to collect floating debris and waste from the aquatic environment.

SOURCE PortsToronto

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