The sun began peering through the scattered clouds on the morning of Saturday, May 22nd. Our team at Forever Great was congregating on the Grand Haven State Park Beach as we welcomed volunteers to our first ever beach clean-up, hosted in union with Alliance for the Great Lakes. The beach looked to be in pristine condition, as Mother Nature acted in perfect cooperation with our event. However, we had the urge to take a closer look at the cleanliness of the beach.
Rooted in research and prior knowledge on the realities of pollution within the Great Lakes, we had a feeling that we could pick up quite a bit of trash. But we didn’t completely expect what happened next. With the help of 13 volunteers, we collected and properly disposed of 18.5 pounds of trash. Amongst the approximate 1,800 pieces of trash picked up, roughly 1,400 were pieces of plastic. Many were small and colorful pieces of plastic that looked to have been broken down over time. Our group also collected everything from food wrappers to cigarette butts to foam pieces.
This is a small but real glimpse into the plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. All five Great Lakes face nearly 22 million pounds of plastic each year, with that number only expected to increase. 11 million pounds of plastic enter Lake Michigan alone each year - partly due to the hubs of Chicago and Milwaukee. That number is very concerning, especially when you consider what happens to that plastic.
The plastic in these waterways does not go anywhere. It simply breaks down over time into smaller pieces called microplastics. Exposure to sunlight, wind, waves, and more all play their role in breaking down this plastic. It is then often consumed, either by wildlife or humans. Almost 50 million people rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water - microplastics are small enough to sneak through the water filtration system and become consumed by us. While plastic in the Great Lakes is a pollution issue, it’s also a consumption issue. According to a study done by WWF International, we could be consuming up to a credit card of plastic each week, much of it from our drinking water.
This knowledge inspired the creation of Forever Great in late 2020. When coupled with the harmful environmental realities of the clothing industry (which we will get to in our next blog), we knew something had to be said in the Great Lakes region. The clothing we sell at Forever Great does a large part in re-purposing the discarded materials that end up polluting waterways. But, as much as this does its part in rethinking the wasteful practices of the clothing industry, we want to do as much as possible to directly service our beloved Great Lakes.
Beach clean-up efforts have long been a goal of ours at Forever Great. From inception, we knew we wanted to get out in the community and have a real impact. To everyone who came out and helped with the cleanup, thank you. The success of this first cleanup is only the beginning, with more planned to happen in the coming months. For updates on upcoming clean-ups and all things Forever Great, follow along on Instagram, Facebook, and sign up for our community newsletter. We hope to see you on the shoreline with us soon.