PortsToronto Trash Trapping Program


Researchers estimate that 10,000 metric tonnes of waste enter the Great Lakes annually, and plastic litter can harm wildlife and contaminate drinking water. Trash trapping technology, like Seabins, can play an important role in capturing floating plastics and microplastics and removing them from the water.

The PortsToronto Trash Trapping Program employs trash trapping technology and solutions-based research to tackle plastic pollution and protect Toronto’s waters for future generations. It is led by PortsToronto and the U of T Trash Team, in partnership with the Waterfront Business Improvement Area (WBIA) and the City of Toronto BIA Office Innovation Grant, Nieuport Aviation, the Toronto Zoo, Harbourfront Centre and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).
The PortsToronto Trash Trapping Program is part of the Toronto Inner Harbour Floatables Strategy, a partnership led by TRCA, and of the International Trash Trapping Network, an initiative led by the U of T Trash Team and Ocean Conservancy, and has influenced the launch of similar trash trapping and data collection programs throughout the Great Lakes and beyond.


Research Partnership with the University of Toronto 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 trash traps 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.

Research Results 

28July-OHM-CRochman7.JPGIn 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 over the course of five months.

Tiny debris, including microplastics – items smaller than five-millimetres – are by far the most common items (by count) collected by Seabins. Also included in the 43 kg of anthropogenic debris we diverted were plastic pellets, pieces of foam from food containers, plastic bottle caps, cigarette butts and fatbergs. 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.
This was the first year that WasteSharks were included in the research results. 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. 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.
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.

This research by the U of T Trash Team confirms the important role trash trapping technologycan play in capturing floating plastics and microplastics in the water. In addition to increasing waste literacy among the public, the U of T Trash Team’s work to characterize and quantify litter diverted by trash trapscan serve to inform policies that mitigate plastic pollution and protect the wildlife and people of the Great Lakes. Since the Trash Trapping Program’s launch in summer 2019, trash traps 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.
  • To learn more about the 2023 results, click here.
  • To learn more about 2022 research season results, click here.


In an effort to combat and study plastic pollution in Toronto waterways, PortsToronto launched its award-winning Seabin Program in 2019 at the Outer Harbour Marina and at Pier 6 on Toronto’s waterfront. The Seabin is a floating trash bin that acts like a vaccum, collecting plastic debris as small as two millimetres as well as hydrocarbons like fuel and oil with the help of a filtration pad.

Project partners, the University of Toronto Trash Team, count and characterize the materials captured by PortsToronto Seabins in order to further understand the origination of floating plastic and litter in the Toronto Harbour, and to inform technological and behavioural solutions to prevent these materials from entering Lake Ontario in the first place.

In 2022, the program expanded to new locations in the Toronto Harbour and explored the use of new technology for tackling floating waste, including an engineering design study in partnership with the University of Toronto aimed to create a bespoke trash-trapping device for Toronto’s unique waterways.

In 2022, the program was rebranded as the PortsToronto Trash Trapping Program in an effort recognize the increased scope of the program and new tactics employed.

In summer 2023, PortsToronto launched a pilot project in the Toronto Harbour that saw two new WasteShark aquadrones join its network of Seabins in capturing floating debris and small plastic pollution from the surface of the water.

The Program has been recognized by the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) with a Gold National Award of Excellence, and with the Robert Eaton Environmental Award of Excellence. It has been featured on several broadcast, print and online publications, including the PBS Newshour documentary The Plastic Problem and La terre en nous, a series airing on Canada’s leading First Nations broadcast outlet APTN. 


The Toronto WasteSharks

The Toronto WasteSharks names (Ebb and Flow) were chosen through a public contest and vote.
Based out of the Outer Harbour Marina, the WasteSharks troll problem areas for debris collection throughout the Toronto Harbour and waterfront, collecting debris and contributing to important data collection as part of PortsToronto’s research partnership with the University of Toronto Trash Team and their International Trash Trap Network.

Follow along on social media under @Sharks_TO on Twitter and Instagram.

How does a Seabin work?


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.

How Does a WasteShark aquadrone work?

The WasteShark is an aqua drone. It can operate both manually and by remote control and can be programmed to operate autonomously along a prescribed route for up to six hours, collecting floating debris, small plastic pollution and vegetation from the water. Operating like a Roomba vaccum, Wastesharks skim the surface of the water, filtering it through a catch basin and net that captures the floating waste. With a 180-litre capacity, each WasteShark can collect and remove 1100-lbs of waste daily from the aquatic environment.

Did you know?


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.
One Wasteshark can:
  • Collect and remove 1100-lbs of waste daily from the aquatic environment. 
  • Operate both manually and autonomously for up to six hours.