A Michigan woman's quest to pick up 1M pieces of trash around Great Lakes turns into a nonprofit

'We're really the last line of defense in terms of preventing this stuff from becoming marine debris.'
Posted at 8:49 AM, Apr 26, 2022

(WXYZ) — Earth Day may have officially passed, but every day is Earth Day for a local nonprofit that's mission is to help clean up the Great Lakes.

"I am finding a lot of different types of plastics, so lots of microplastics and nurdles, lots of balloon pieces, cigarette butts, lots of fast food items, and it kind of depends on what beach you're at and whether you're urban or rural, right on a beach or along a roadside," said Meag Schwartz, founder of Great Lakes Great Responsibility.

That’s a rundown of just some of the litter Meag finds when she’s around our Great Lakes. It’s what drove her to create a goal for herself: to pick up 1 million pieces of trash.

"But with a little bit of quick mental math, I realized it would take me 27 years ... even if I picked up 100 pieces a day ... and so I knew the problem was bigger than what I could accomplish on my own," she said.

That’s when Meag decided to launch Great Lakes Great Responsibility, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting our treasured freshwater sources.

"The network of volunteers that we've generated has been the biggest boost to my morale. And just knowing that there are millions of people that want to support the Great Lakes is just incredible," she said.

Since launching Great Lakes Great Responsibility in 2020, Meag says volunteers have prevented more than 100,000 pieces of litter from entering the waterways.

Emily Naif is one of those volunteers, a photographer and nature lover. She said she’s inspired by people coming together to make the world a better place.

"I see hope, it means that there's a better future ahead for our planet, it means that there's better energy to be spread among the changing world every day," said Emily.

Meag said Great Lakes Great Responsibility has a number of partners, including the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, as they hold cleanup events from Monroe to Marquette and beyond.

It's all in an effort to make a difference now and for generations to come.

"We're really the last line of defense in terms of preventing this stuff from becoming marine debris, from preventing it from impacting wildlife and our drinking water, too," said Meag.

The nonprofit is holding their next event this weekend (April 30, 10 a.m. to noon) in Monroe at Sterling State Park. You can sign up to help by clicking here.

And even if you can’t attend, Meag and Emily said you can still do your part independently by picking up litter and tagging them on social media, so they can include your haul in the count.

"It's like planning good seeds or just planting them as we go. The more people that see, the more people that do," said Emily.