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PLASTIC SOURCES & PATHWAYS

Plastics are one of the most revolutionary innovations of the modern world. They play a critical role in shaping our economy and our daily lives. Plastics are used in many different ways - they can be found in medical equipment,  buildings, clothing, food packaging, phones, toys and many other items. Some plastics are reusable and recyclable, while others are difficult to recycle with current technology. Most plastics are very durable and do not break down easily in the environment. When improperly discarded, these materials can find  their way into rivers, streams and lakes, posing risks to ecosystems and human health. 

Not all plastic items become pollutants, though all plastic has the potential to reach the environment if improperly disposed of. The plastics listed on this page are some of the most commonly used in the world, but not necessarily the most common types of plastic pollution! 

Read on to learn more about where plastic pollution can originate and how it typically travels from these sources to reach waterways like the Great Lakes. And be sure to look at our feature on Plastic Types for more information about different varieties of plastic and what makes each kind unique.   

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Source

Pathway

Click the icons and arrows for details on different sources and pathways of plastic into the Great Lakes

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residential areas

Types and Examples of Plastic:

PET

Polyethylene terephthalate

Clothing fibres, drink bottles, personal care product bottles

HDPE

High-density polyethylene

Laundry detergent bottles, recycling bins, toys

PVC

Polyvinyl chloride

Shower curtains, commercial & residential flooring

LDPE

Low-density polyethylene

Plastic bags, juice boxes, plastic film

PP

Polypropylene

Dishware, food containers, outdoor furniture

PS

Polystyrene 

Food trays, utensils, toys, insulation, foam in car seats

Plastic Pathways:

A major pathway for plastics found in our lakes is wastewater effluent. Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs) collect and treat wastes that are known to contain microplastics including those originating from personal care products and synthetic fibres originating from clothing. Some studies have found higher counts of microplastics in water and sediment near or downstream of WWTPs, while others have reported microplastic in treated effluent.

 
 

Industrial & Manufacturing areas

Types and Examples of Plastic:

PVC

Polyvinyl chloride

Rigid pipes, wire insulation, building siding

LDPE

Low-density polyethylene

Tubes, laboratory equipment, wire insulation, wrapping

PP

Polypropylene

Car parts, medical components, industrial fibres

PS

Polystyrene 

TVs, computers, medical equipment, culture trays, petri dishes, packaging, instrument panels

PC

Polycarbonate

Aircraft, smartphone, automotive and medical parts

Plastic Pathways:

Pathways for plastics and microplastics originating from industrial and manufacturing operations include industrial effluent, industrial spills, and stormwater runoff. Studies have found that rivers and streams flowing through areas of high industrial activity could be transporting plastic pellets used for the production of manufactured goods into the lakes.

 
 

roads & vehicles

Types and Examples of Plastic:

PP

Polypropylene

Bumpers, cable insulation, carpet fibres

PVC

Polyvinyl chloride

Instrument panes, electrical cables, pipes, car doors

N

Nylon

Car tires, injection molded vehicle parts

Plastic Pathways:

Microplastics can be released from vehicle tires and brake systems through abrasion or friction, and once in the environment, they can become a source of plastic pollution in our lakes. Particles can enter streams and lakes through air dispersal or stormwater runoff. In addition, pre-production plastic pellets are often transported from manufacturer to processer by train or truck and can end up in lakes and rivers as a result of spillage during transport or off-loading

 
 

BOATS & FISHING

Types and Examples of Plastic:

HDPE

High-density polyethylene

Boats, walkways, stairs

N

Nylon

Fishing nets, fishing lines

PVC

Polyvinyl chloride

Fishing pots

PS

Polystyrene

Floating docks, buoys/floats

PET

Polyethylene terephthalate

Fishing traps

Plastic Pathways:

Shipping and boating have been identified as potential sources of plastic pollution. Plastics used for docks or floats can can break down and be released directly into the water. Recreational water activities, including beach use, can also result in plastic litter finding its way into waterways. 

 
 

farms & agriculture

Types and Examples of Plastic:

PC

Polycarbonate

Greenhouses

N

Polypropylene

Silage

PVC

Polyvinyl chloride

Irrigation systems and resevoirs

Plastic Pathways:

Plastics can enter the environment from agricultural systems as a result of plastic use on farms, and through the application of biosolids that may have been contaminated with plastic debris to fertilize crops. Potential pathways for plastic entering the lakes include agricultural runoff and rural stormwater runoff

 
 

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Contact The Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup

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