Straight from the Tap

Reducing Use of Single-Use Plastics to Protect our Water Resources

04/22/2018

Cleveland Water’s treatment process can take anything out of the water to make it safe for you to drink, but it’s easier and cheaper if we don’t have to. The first step in providing affordable, fresh water to your tap is keeping our source water clean.

Keeping unwanted things out of Lake Erie is all of our responsibility. All Cleveland Water customers live in Lake Erie’s watershed. This means that any water runoff from your property – and anything it might carry with it – will flow into a river, creek, stream or storm drain that will eventually end up in Lake Erie. By picking up litter and debris in your yard and in your community, you’re not only keeping your neighborhood beautiful, you’re also keeping trash out of your local waterways and Lake Erie.

Earth Day and World Environment Day this year will both focus on putting an end to plastic pollution. While plastic has many practical uses, plastic pollution has become a global challenge. Regardless of the type or size, plastic never decomposes, not only creating an eyesore but potentially causing harm to fish, birds, and other wildlife.

Macroplastics

85% of plastics in the Great Lakes are macroplastics (plastics larger than 5 mm) and come from items such as cigarette butts, plastic lighters, food wrappers, grocery bags, beverage bottles, bottle caps, straws, plastic utensils, balloons and balloon strings, and even kids’ toys.

Reducing macroplastic pollution in our waterways starts with reducing our consumption of single-use plastic items. Single-use plastic items are some of the most common items found during cleanups of our local waterways.

Reducing potential macroplastic pollution starts with simple choices – like choosing tap water over bottled water and bringing reusable bags to the store instead using flimsy plastic bags. Ask yourself every time that you are considering buying a disposable plastic item: Do I absolutely need this? Can I use something else that I already have? Could I buy something that I can use long-term instead? A small investment in reusable containers can pay huge dividends for your pocketbook and the environment.

Microplastics

Research shows that about 15% of the plastic pollution found in Lake Erie comes from microplastics, including microbeads and microfibers. These tiny plastic particles are less than 5 mm, but many are much smaller and some are nearly invisible. Microplastics that have made their way to our rivers and lakes can be ingested by birds, fish and other living creatures causing digestive and reproductive problems, as well as death.

Microbeads were once added to cosmetic products such as face wash, hand soap, body wash, and tooth paste to act as an exfoliant. When products with microbeads are used, the tiny pieces of plastic wash off your hands, face, and body and down the drain. While wastewater treatment facilities can remove most microplastics, a percentage of microbeads can reach surface waters that flow to Lake Erie during combined sewer overflow events.

However, microbeads only represent about 16% of the microplastics found in the Great Lakes. The majority of open water microplastics are from the breakdown of larger plastic pieces through weathering and abrasion, making the prevention of macroplastic pollution that much more important.

Plastic fibers, which come from items such as synthetic clothes, diapers and cigarette butts, are the most common type of microplastic detected in Great Lakes tributaries.

Since July 1, 2017, federal law has banned companies from putting microplastics in products. After July 1, 2018, it will be illegal in the U.S. to sell products containing microplastics. If you own and are still using products that contain microplastics, consider replacing them.

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