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Mobilizing a Great Lakes Microplastic Action Network

Year Awarded: 2024
Awarded: $1,190,000
Team Leader:  Wayne State University

This team, comprising scientists and community partners from Wayne State University, Huron River Watershed Council, Cleveland Water Alliance, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, and Resource Recycling Systems, will create a Great Lakes-focused microplastic action network that will use proven reduction strategies and new analytic tools, including a new open-source analytic engine, or “Library,” for identifying environmental microplastics. The Library will empower communities with the ability to identify local pollution sources for the first time, offering new opportunities for microplastic pollution mitigation at a local level.

The team – working with communities in Ohio, New York, and Michigan, will develop and pilot-test the AI-powered Library. The Library will analyze environmental microplastics to infer the likely source, fate, and transport of microplastic samples – at a lower cost and with better accuracy than alternatives.

Pilot communities will be able to target source-specific strategies and learn from their actions. Using data generated from the new Library, communities will take actions to reduce microplastics in their local context, such as:

  • Implement improved practices in wastewater filtration to address point sources.
  • Target single-use plastics through public awareness campaigns.
  • Support restaurant associations in identifying alternatives to plastic containers.
  • Pilot washing machine filters to reduce microfibers in washing water.
  • Target manufacturers releasing nurdles in the supply chain.

Ultimately, the team – supported by the technology – will establish a growing network of over 200 basin communities who will help one another more effectively execute control programs. This network will act as a hub for exchanging strategies, achievements, and learning, improving the collective ability of communities across the region to tackle microplastic pollution.