NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Green Thumbs, Plastic, and “Erie” Opportunities

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There comes a time every spring when the gardener genes in us switch on, our thumbs turn green, and we all head to our local greenhouse to pick up some potted plants. We pick out a few flats of flowers, some seedling vegetables, and maybe some larger shrubs to beautify our yards and gardens. Then there is the laborious task of getting down and dirty and planting all of the purchases! In the end, besides the sweat on our foreheads and a sore back, we are left with a pile of empty plastic flats, cell packs, and pots. But what do we do with them? Are they even recyclable? The unknown causes most of them to end up with the rest of the garbage to be sent to the landfill or piled up for storage where they can easily be blown away into the environment. But it turns out that these materials are recyclable!

In northwest Ohio, the Ottawa and Sandusky County Master Gardeners along with The Ohio State University extension offices have organized a plastic recycling project for such gardening items. This year, between May 1, 2010 and October 31, 2010, gardeners and non-gardeners alike can drop off not only the plastic gardening containers, but plastic sheeting, crushed beverage bottles, plastic grocery bags, and plastic toys at six local greenhouses. Materials will be picked up at these locations by Purpose Green, a local post-consumer recycling company where they will be processed and then shipped off to be remanufactured into recycled plastic products here in the U.S. This is all in an effort to keep plastic from entering landfills or the environment. For detailed information on disposal locations, please see: http://sandusky.osu.edu/topics/master-gardener-volunteer-program/MGPlasticRecyle.pdf/view

Photo: Baled gardening containers (courtesy of Purpose Green LLC)

But why is debris in Ohio important? To remind everyone of their geography lessons, Ohio’s northern border is Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes. While most people think of our oceans and their associated coastlines when they hear the term ‘marine debris,’ the Great Lakes are also included in the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s definition, and for good reason. Just like the oceans, the Great Lakes accumulate debris as well, and are an important freshwater ecosystem.

Figure: The five Great Lakes and surrounding states. The yellow star is the location of Ottawa and Sandusky Counties. (Background map courtesy of GLIN)

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the five lakes, but it is the most productive and biologically diverse. Approximately 143 different species of fish have been identified in the watershed and the annual catch of the commercial fishery in Lake Erie is greater than the catch in the other four Great Lakes combined, making it the most valuable freshwater fishery in the world. However, it also has the most heavily populated coastline. Nearly 12 million people, one third of the total Great Lakes Basin population, live in the Lake Erie watershed. As a result, Lake Erie has the historic reputation of being considered the most polluted of the lakes, although significant improvements have been made. Debris is only one of the many potential stressors to this environment and one that can be improved by recycling. By providing opportunities to recycle plastics that are normally not accepted at major recycling stations, efforts like this one from the Master Gardeners help keep debris out of the Great Lakes.

Photo: Debris on a Lake Erie beach

As we approach the gardening season and Earth Day in April, consider looking for or establishing something like this in your community to encourage recycling! Keep the sea (and lakes) free of debris!🙂 ~Sarah

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

2 thoughts on “Green Thumbs, Plastic, and “Erie” Opportunities

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