The town of Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island is a popular tourist destination during the summer, hosting as many as 750,000 visitors every year. That’s great for the local economy, but all those people also bring something else to the island: lots and lots of plastic.
Ohio Sea Grant Extension Educator Jill Bartolotta and Stone Laboratory Education & Outreach Assistant Sue Bixler have estimated that Put-in-Bay tourists could eliminate 2.81 million plastic straws, 2.81 million plastic bags and 3.75 million plastic bottles a year by choosing reusable alternatives like metal water bottles and canvas bags. A two-year outreach project, with funding from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, is aimed at encouraging those reusable alternatives both on the island and back at home.
Last summer, Bartolotta and Bixler partnered with the National Park Service and island businesses to place posters in prominent spots across South Bass Island, as well as the Miller Ferry dock at Catawba Point. Along with signs posted at popular smoking spots, the posters emphasize the impact just one small choice – to bring a reusable bag, or to drop cigarette butts in designated containers – can have on an area many visitors value for its natural beauty.
This year, the team will continue to work with local island partners on bringing information about plastic pollution prevention to Put-in-Bay tourists.
“We’re going to keep working with the Boardwalk, which is a popular island restaurant,” Bartolotta said. “They’re going to keep doing their Skip the Straw campaign, but they’re also going to try to tackle another plastic item this summer.” The restaurant will stop serving carryout orders in plastic bags, and Bartolotta and Bixler will help train servers to communicate that decision to customers in the most effective manner.
The team is also planning a workshop for 30 educators from along the Lake Erie coast, in partnership with Sarah Lowe from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and Emily Kuzmick of Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve. The workshop day will include an overview of what marine debris is, how it’s a problem for the Great Lakes, and how the Great Lakes Marine Debris Action Plan will help address those issues.
All educators in attendance will also receive an outreach kit called a Trash Tote that includes everything from multi-use replacements for common plastic items to examples of beach clean-up kits for those wanting to organize an event at home.
“So for example, the tote has kits for zero-waste eating, zero-waste grocery shopping, just so people can get an idea of what’s possible,” Bartolotta explained. “Then it has some examples of common microplastics, like fibers and beads, so the educators have some things to show people when they’re speaking at outreach events. The idea is these would be kits that people can take to just have a nice display for their table, or information to share at a beach clean-up, so it also becomes an education event.”
In addition to the workshop, Bartolotta and Bixler are also working with the Ohio Clean Marinas and Clean Boater Program to educate marina owners and boaters about limiting plastic during boating excursions.
“We’re really going to focus on boaters when they’re underway, making sure they’re tying things down so nothing gets blown overboard, providing them with mesh reusable trash bags, and also just talking to them at Clean Boater events about things like taking a jug of water instead of a bunch of plastic bottles,” Bartolotta said. The group is also hoping to use this summer’s outreach as a pilot for a larger grant application that will expand boater outreach to more locations.
Due to current COVID-19 precautions, the Lake Erie Islands are closed to all but residents and essential personnel, so the team is adjusting the timing of workshops and other projects. However, they hope to hit the ground running once tourists are once again allowed on South Bass Island.
The team is using the Twitter handle @PlasticFreePIB to share information about the project as well as other ways to reduce plastic consumption in everyday life. Follow them, as well as @ohioseagrant, for tips and info during #PlasticFreeJuly. You can also share what you’re doing to reduce plastic use with the hashtag #PlasticFreeGreatLakes.