IJC recommends Canada, US create binational plan to keep microplastics out of Great Lakes


Amid growing evidence that significant amounts of small pieces of plastic are entering the Great Lakes, the International Joint Commission (IJC) released a report to the governments of Canada and the United States recommending several actions to prevent these microplastics – generally defined as a piece of plastic five millimeters or smaller -- from entering the lakes. 

At an IJC workshop addressing microplastics in Windsor on April 26-27, 2016, 33 experts from Canada and the United States reviewed the latest science and policy findings and developed draft recommendations. Following a public comment period last fall, the IJC reached the following conclusions and recommendations:

  • Canada and the United States should develop a binational plan with measurable goals to prevent microplastics from entering the Great Lakes, using approaches such as policy, market-based instruments, outreach education and research. Because microplastics have not been studied extensively in freshwater systems like the Great Lakes, there are significant knowledge gaps regarding their sources, abundance and distribution and how they can impact both aquatic life and human health from eating fish that have ingested microplastics. Canada and the United States should work together on science, research and monitoring efforts to assess the extent of microplastics in the Great Lakes. This data can then be used in the decision-making process to assess the potential ecological and human health impacts, determine the major sources and the fate of these plastics, and how best to reduce their release.
  • The United States and Canada should adopt policies promoting life-cycle responsibility of plastic producers and support state, provincial and local policies to reduce plastic pollution. This should also include funding to compare and analyze existing programs for effectiveness and promote those that work well.
  • The United States and Canada should provide funding for local programs and organizations that provide educational outreach to reduce plastics and microplastics from entering the Great Lakes.

As several organizations and programs can contribute to the control and prevention of microplastics entering the Great Lakes, the IJC recommends that officials engage with a diverse set of stakeholders from both countries to give effect to these recommendations. 

The IJC was established under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help the United States and Canada prevent and resolve disputes over the use of the waters the two countries share. The IJC’s responsibilities include reporting on progress made under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the nations toward restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes and connecting waters. The IJC is currently preparing its first assessment of progress made by the governments to restore and protect the Great Lakes under the 2012 Agreement. Citizens can participate in the process through to April 15, 2017 and can learn more online at participateijc.org.

For more information on microplastics in the Great Lakes, see the full report.

For more information: 

Sarah Lobrichon




Frank Bevacqua




Sally Cole-Misch