Recycled Boats Take to the Lake @CleveMetroparks @goCMNH


Sat 9/12 @ 9am

Lake Erie is a mess. Yes, it’s our beautiful lake and we should be proud to live on its shores… but, frankly, it’s a hot mess and we only have ourselves to blame. From green algae blooms to a plethora of plastic pollution, the issues with our lake run deep. But don’t despair — we can clean up our lake if we clean up our act.

The Great Lake Erie Boat Float aims to raise attention surrounding plastic pollution in a fun way. In this contest, participants create their own boats made entirely of recycled material and see which one can float the furthest. Bring the family and check it out. Boats launch at 10am from Edgewater Park. There’s even a special boat float just for kids. Then stick around afterwards to clean the beach.

We spoke to Cathi Lehn, Ph.D., Sustainable Cleveland Coordinator at the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, about this year’s event and why it’s so important.

CoolCleveland: What’s new for this year’s Boat Float? What can attendees expect?

Cathi Lehn: Each year I am amazed at the boats and the creativity of the Boat Float participants.  All boats are made out of post-consumer recyclable materials and manually powered. Plastic bottles and 55-gallon barrels are popular items but we have also seen detergent bottles, box springs, trash retrieved from the river, kitty litter containers and many, many more household items.

Trophies are awarded in the following categories: Fastest Boat, Best Use of Recyclable Materials and Most Artistic.  We also have a category for children under 12 called Li’l Sailors. RES Polyflow has been a Boat Float partner since the beginning and will take all plastic and petroleum-based materials back to their facility and using an advanced technology convert these materials back into crude oil. What a great solution to the problems facing a disposable society!

The judges this year are: Jennifer Fay, President, Retap North America; Stephen Love, Euclid Beach Adopt-A-BeachTM Team Leader; Jan Rybka, District Administrator, Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District.

A beach cleanup sponsored by the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-A-Beach program and Drink Local. Drink Tap. will follow the Boat Float.

Spectators to this year’s Boat Float will also be happy to find that NEOCycle, a two-day long bicycling event, is also being held at Edgewater Park.  Come for the boats and stay for the day!

What are some of the biggest issues with the Great Lakes and how do you hope the Boat Float brings them to light?

The goal of the Boat Float is to raise awareness about the issue of plastic pollution, or plastic marine debris, in our water, which includes our streams, rivers and our great lake. The majority of plastic pollution in our waters comes from land. Trash found in our streets and yards finds its way into the water if it is not disposed of properly and ends up washing down the storm drains during rain storms. Once in the water, it poses a hazard to wildlife that can get entangled in it and as it breaks down into smaller fragments wildlife can also ingest it.

Plastic is made up of many chemicals and in the water these chemicals can leach out, polluting our water.  Also, chemicals already in the water can attach to the plastic. This is a problem especially if animals then eat the plastic and then what about when we eat those animals?

If there is good news about plastic pollution it is that there is something that every single person can do, no matter their age. We created this problem and we can solve it.  We have all heard reduce, reuse and recycle, which are all solutions. Another R is rethink. Rethink your purchases. Buy products with less packaging and those that do not contain plastic microbeads, e.g ingredients that contain polyethylene.

The Boat Float is a fun and unique way to convey a very serious message about plastic pollution. In the months leading up to the Boat Float, education and outreach programs promoting the Boat Float present audiences with the realities of plastic and its impact on the environment and our wildlife and offer easy solutions for all to make a difference.

What has been the coolest boat?

It is very difficult to pick just one boat that is the “coolest.”  Each year the judges are tasked with awarding the Most Artistic and that can many times be difficult with so many choices.  One boat that does stand out however is Rolling Tide from the 2nd Annual Boat Float.  But as you can see from the photos from past Boat Floats, there have been many cool boats.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Marcus Eriksen, Ph.D., Director of Research at the 5 Gyres Institute and co-founder of the Boat Float, will be a keynote speaker at this year’s Sustainable Cleveland Summit hosted by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.  Dr. Eriksen will provide updates from his ocean expeditions to conduct surveys on plastic marine debris and will also discuss his research that identified microbeads in Lake Erie.  Registration for the Summit is open until September 13th here.

The Boat Float is held in conjunction with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Conservation Symposium held on Friday, September 11th.  This year’s theme is Science by the People: New Challenges, New Opportunities. Find out more at



Cool Cleveland correspondent Sarah Valek studied art and writing at Ithaca College. After graduation, she came back to Cle and served two years as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. She can be found on all sides of the city in pursuit of homeschooling activities for her son and the perfect soy latte. Contact her at or via Twitter.


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