Plastic Pollution in Great Lakes Is “Becoming Increasingly Worse”

Environmental journalist Eric Freedman says we ingest plastic chemicals from the Great Lakes every day without knowing the harmful effects.

A photo of Lake Huron

The Great Lakes hold 90% of North America’s fresh surface water. But the water supply is not unlimited.

The Great Lakes are Michigan’s most precious resource, but plastic pollution and PFAS chemicals in our waterways are actively harming the state’s wildlife and residents. Journalist Eric Freedman discusses the actions we need to take, individually and collectively, to keep ourselves and our environment safe. 

“Plastics come from the petroleum industry … We need to pay more attention to where our products come from … we can make individual decisions in how we spend our money.” –Eric Freedman, Michigan State University

Listen: How residents living near the Great Lakes are affected by microplastics.


Eric Freedman is a professor and director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. He recently wrote a piece for Crain’s Detroit Business titled, “Great Lakes microplastics pollution is showing up in fish, birds — and your beer glass.”

He says the amount of plastics and PFAS chemicals in the Great Lakes is “becoming increasingly worse. One thing that makes it so difficult is we don’t know the effects of plastics on our bodies, we don’t know the long-term effects on wildlife … Second, these pieces are so tiny … we don’t see them … they’re ending up everywhere.” Freedman says those living in the Great Lakes region are directly affected by these microplastics in what we eat and drink. “We eat the fish, and we don’t always know what the fish eat,” he explains. “They’re ingesting [plastic particles], and at the same time they’re not getting the same nutrients they’d get from real food.”

Freedman says there needs to be tougher federal regulations on waste, but this does not exempt individual action from contributing to pollution. “First is personal responsibility … we need to reduce plastic use … we need tougher government regulations on industrial waste … and more public participation in volunteer cleanup activities.” He says there are practical solutions to curb plastic pollution in our waterways, like buying products consciously. “Plastics come from the petroleum industry … We need to pay more attention to where our products come from … we can make individual decisions in how we spend our money.” 

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