PortsToronto Seabin Program

Increasing plastic production, coupled with poor waste management practices and the lack of proper recycling infrastructures, is seriously threatening the sustainability and biodiversity of our lakes and waterways.
 
PortsToronto’s Sustainability Committee meets regularly to come up with ideas — both big and small — on how to be greener and reduce our carbon footprint. In 2019, with the issue of plastics and microplastics in our waterways front and centre, the committee did some research on Seabins, floating trash bins invented by Australian surfers troubled by the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean.
 
In June 2019, the Outer Harbour Marina installed three Seabins as part of the first phase of a pilot program, becoming the first commercial installation of Seabins in Canada. The Seabins — that act like a vacuum cleaner on the surface of the water — are strategically positioned to enable the wind and currents to push debris in the Seabins' direction.

In October 2019, following the success of the Seabins Pilot Program at the Outer Harbour Marina, PortsToronto launched phase two of the project, which included the deployment of two additional Seabins in Toronto's inner harbour. Secured to a floating dock positioned in the northeast corner of the York Street Slip, these were the first Seabins to be installed in a North American harbour.

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“Congratulations to everyone at @PortsToronto for launching the next phase of the Seabin program. I look forward to seeing even greater success as your innovative Seabins continue to remove plastics & microplastics from Lake Ontario to make it cleaner for future generations.”

@JeffYurekMPP, Ontario Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
 

While the third phase of the project – a future roll-out of Seabins throughout Toronto’s harbour – was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PortsToronto is thrilled with the program’s results thus far and plans to collaborate with waterfront stakeholders to expand the Seabin Program in Toronto’s harbour.
 

How does a Seabin work?

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The Seabin moves up and down with the natural flow of water, collecting all floating debris. Water is sucked in from the surface and passes through a catch bag inside the Seabin, with a submersible water pump capable of displacing 25,000 LPH (litres per hour), plugged directly into 110/22V outlet. The water is then pumped back into the marina, leaving litter and debris trapped in the catch bag to be disposed of properly. Just one Seabin can collect an estimated 3.9 kilograms of debris in a day, filtering as much as 1.4 metric tonnes of trash in one year. 
 

Did you know?

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Just ONE Seabin can:

  • Collect an estimated 3.9 kilograms of debris in a day, filtering as much as 1.4 metric tonnes of trash in one year;
  • Intercept microfibres/plastics as small as 2 millimetres;
  • Collect hydrocarbons like fuel and oil with the help of a filtration pad; and,
  • As an added bonus, the Seabin’s construction is 100 per cent recyclable.
 

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Fighting Floatables in the Toronto Harbour with the U of T Trash Team

To quantify our impact and inform policy, PortsToronto partners with the University of Toronto Trash Team on research, education and outreach led by Dr. Chelsea Rochman, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology alongside Trash Team co-founders Susan Debreceni and Dr. Rafaela Gutierrez. As part of this collaborative initiative, researchers from the Rochman Lab collect and analyze the anthropogenic debris including plastics and microplastics captured by the Seabins to determine the origination of some of these materials. This process will, in turn, better inform the Trash Team’s solutions-based research and community outreach program, which ultimately seeks to increase waste literacy and prevent plastics and microplastics from entering waterways in the first place.

 
“In our lab at the University of Toronto, we find large plastic debris and microplastics in our local rivers, in the Toronto Harbour and in Lake Ontario. This litter leads to contamination of the local fish and contamination of our drinking water. We established the U of T Trash Team to increase waste literacy in our community and help translate the science to the people that make decisions on our waterfront. Naturally, we partnered with PortsToronto at inception to explore collaborations that bring technologies to our waterfront to capture plastic pollution before it contaminates our lake. Since day one, PortsToronto has been supportive of our mission and we are thrilled to partner with them on this fantastic initiative that will further plastic prevention, research and community outreach.”

 Dr. Chelsea Rochman, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto  

 

2020 Research Season Results

The project continued in the summer and fall of 2020 at the Outer Harbour Marina. Trash Team researchers developed protocols that quantify and categorize macro- and micro- of litter captured, and an analysis that quantifies and characterizes macro- and micro- litter captured by PortsToronto’s three Seabins at the marina. These protocols are employed to report on the total amount of anthropogenic debris successfully diverted, and which types of debris are captured in each Seabin.

The Trash Team reports that over the 2020 season, between July and October, an average of 28,284 small pieces of anthropogenic debris were diverted from Lake Ontario per bin, for a total of 84,854 pieces. Other than microplastics (smaller than 5-millimetres), which are by far the most common items collected by the Seabins, other commonly found macroplastics include clear plastic packaging, hard plastic fragments from takeout containers or plastic packaging, and cigarette butts. 
 

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Vegetation as a Magnet

 

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A pellet – a form of pre-production plastic that comes from industry – is found tangled in vegetation collected by a Seabin at the Outer Harbour Marina by University of Toronto Trash Team researcher, Cassandra Sherlock.
 

During the course of this research season, Trash Team researchers Cassandra Sherlock and Rafaela F. Gutierrez discovered that vegetation collected by the Seabins has an important role to play in accumulating microplastics. While the Seabins are effective in capturing floating litter and debris as small as 2-millimetres, water-saturated plant material collected in the bins acts as a magnet to capture tiny microplastics, such as pre-production plastic pellets, that might otherwise pass through the Seabins’ capture bag. On average this season, PortsToronto’s Seabins diverted 11,438 plastic pellets from Toronto’s harbour.

Visual Audit


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In 2020, researchers with our partner organization the University of Toronto Trash Team conducted regular visual audits along the Toronto waterfront to help identify problem areas where floating litter typically accumulates. This research will help inform the future third phase of the PortsToronto Seabin Program.

Trash Team researchers also undertook a visual audit of water lots on the Toronto waterfront, from Ireland Park to Sugar Beach. This process involved visiting key locations at regular intervals to count and quantify floating litter. This season, researchers found over 100 different types of litter at the 12 visual audit locations. Of note, the majority of the floatable litter found were single-use plastics, including plastic straws, bottle caps and bags. This data supports the urgent need to reduce the use of harmful single-use plastics. 

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Data

To view detailed data and results from the 2020 research season, click here.
 

Awards

Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) Gold National Award of Excellence for the PortsToronto Seabin Pilot Program in the Best Use of Media Relations

Outer Harbour Marina Recognized with Robert Eaton Environmental Award of Excellence for First in Canada Commercial Seabin Pilot Program 


Interested in how you can get involved? Visit the University of Toronto Trash Team website to learn more about their solutions-based research and waste literacy initiatives.