Floating trash collectors were put in the Toronto harbour a few years ago and the research team behind the project keeps finding interesting things. The University of Toronto’s Trash Team has realized that beyond keeping the water clean the bins can help identify sources of pollutants. With this increase in knowledge of how trash flows in water we can craft better policies to protect nature from human waste.
Since the Seabins were first installed, it’s been U of T Trash Team co-founder Chelsea Rochman’s job — along with team members like U of T student Cassandra Sherlock — to comb through what comes out of them.
Rochman is working on guidelines for classifying the waste that will eventually be put to use in communities around the province.
“Any type of trash trap does one thing really well… divert our plastic waste out of the Great Lakes,” she told CBC Toronto.
“But it also can involve policy because what we find tells us something about the source.”
Take those pre-production pellets that Fisher found all over an island beach in Lake Superior, which Rochman says also turn up regularly in the Toronto Seabins after blowing away from industrial sites.
Toronto just announced that the Seabin trial project was a success and now they are expanding the program. Seabins are floating garbage cans that use a solar power pump to collect debris in the water, currently the Toronto ones collect about two kilos of waste per day. It’s crazy to think how much waste ends up in local waters of a city, but at least this project is happening now in the hopes that we’ll eventually taking out more garbage than we’re currently putting in.
To ensure that the Seabins also serve a research and education function, PortsToronto has taken the added step of partnering with the University of Toronto Trash Team on a student-research project led by Dr. Chelsea Rochman, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. As part of this collaborative initiative, students from the Rochman Lab will collect and analyze the 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.
Indonesia has a rather large number of people on reactively small landmass and as a result solid waste has become a problem. Enter Garbage Clinical Insurance which is a company focussed on turning trash collection into health care. It’s a simple solution insofar that people who can’t afford to see a doctor can bring in found trash in exchange for health care. It cleans the streets while keeping people healthy!
For patients, it’s like getting health care for free. “They think they don’t pay anything for the insurance—they just give garbage,” Albinsaid says. “So it persuades the community. And we’re encouraging poor people to pay with their own resources.”
Albinsaid, now 26, has been running his startup, Garbage Clinical Insurance, for two years, after a few earlier variations on the idea failed to take off. The company now runs a health clinic of its own, and also works with four others. So far, it has helped 3,500 uninsured people get health care.
There are some minor things you can do around your home to improve your health and the health of the planet. These things range from where you plant trees and what you buy, Time magazine has looked in the opposite direction: what to throw away. They have a list of 20 things that (if you’re buying) you should discard.
Your stash of diet soda
If you haven’t already, you may want to reconsider your diet soda habit—especially if you’re trying to lose weight. A much-buzzed-about study published in the journal Nature found that non-caloric sweeteners such as saccharin (Sweet-n-Low), sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal) may mess with the gut bacteria that play a key role in healthy metabolism. Researchers found a link between these sweeteners, altered gut microbes, glucose intolerance and metabolic syndrome (both precursors to Type 2 diabetes) in mice and humans.
Late last year Sweden ran out of garbage which caused problems in their energy network. In an ironic step, Sweden’s efficient waste diversion programs are so good that their trash-burning power plants couldn’t find anything to burn. To keep electricity flowing they turned to neighbour Norway for their trash.
Let’s hope that these waste-diversion programs become just as effective elsewhere!
Aside from the economic benefit, Sweden’s system of sustainability clearly has vast environmental benefits. Aside from traditional recycling programs, their waste-to-energy system ensures minimal environmental impact from the country’s waste.
Sweden’s extremely efficient circle of consumption, waste management, and energy output provides the current global population and coming generations inspiration and guidance towards a more sustainable future. They represent one ally of many who understand the need to live sustainably and who fully commit to doing so.