trash

Taking out the Trash

by Tom Damm

 

Trash and litter in our waterways can be harmful to our health, the environment, and the economy.

Trash and litter in our waterways can be harmful to our health, the environment, and the economy.

When EPA representatives met with 4th graders in Maryland last year to observe their work as “stream stewards,” many of the students had the same comment – there’s too much trash in the water.

One young girl told us, “People need to protect our world from getting dirty…because some people throw trash on the ground and they don’t pick it up so we need to tell them to recycle so we don’t get pollution in the water.”

That’s the basic idea – although in far more technical terms – behind steps taken by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia under the Clean Water Act to control trash impacting two major rivers – the Anacostia and the Patapsco.

Trash and debris washed or dumped into our waterways pose more than aesthetic problems. They’re a serious health hazard to people, wildlife and fish and can have economic impacts. Trash harms birds and marine life who consume small pieces, mistaking them for food. In fact, a shard of a plastic DVD case was identified as the cause of the recent death of an endangered sei whale in Virginia’s Elizabeth River. Some of the waste contains chemicals and pathogens that affect water quality.

In 2010, the Maryland and District of Columbia environmental agencies combined to develop strict pollution limits, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), for trash in the Anacostia River. It was the first – and is still the only – interstate trash TMDL in the country.

And then earlier this month, EPA approved a TMDL submitted by the Maryland Department of the Environment for parts of the Patapsco River to deal with trash problems in Baltimore area streams and its famous harbor. The department worked closely with the City and County of Baltimore and with environmental stakeholders on the final product.

One of the ways trash is already being removed from Baltimore Harbor is through an innovative water wheel that collects it. Check out this video and story to see how it works.

And visit this site for tips on what you can do to keep trash out of waterways.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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One Man’s Trash…

Trash often ends up in our waterways, as it does in this location at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, PA.

Trash often ends up in our waterways, as it does in this location at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, PA.

by Sherilyn Morgan

One man’s trash is not necessarily another man’s treasure, especially when it ends up on your lawn, in a neighboring stream or ultimately in our rivers and oceans. 

I was taking a walk in my neighborhood when I noticed plastic bags dancing with the wind, a confetti of cigarette butts and a mosaic of plastic bottles on the sidewalk.   I have certainly seen trash in other neighborhoods, but usually not mine, and usually not this much.  Although it seems almost normal to see trash in some areas, these issues can affect any community because trash travels.  Trash is a local problem that transitions into a global issue.

Single-use items, like plastic bottles, straws, cans and food wrappers, are all on the list of top ten items found as trash. Consider bottled water: it’s convenient, but the bottles and caps often end up as trash. Although not in the “trash top ten”, balloons, which often wind up as trash that ends up in storm drains and nearby creeks, and on our coastlines,  can have detrimental impacts on marine life. Think about when a balloon is released at a party…where does it go? If it deflates and lands where it was released, maybe someone would pick it up and dispose of it properly. But because trash does tend to travel, that deflated balloon may be destined for a waterway where turtles and other aquatic animals can confuse it with food.

With simple, proactive practices, you can keep your neighborhood clean and eliminate single-use plastic products that show up as pollution in aquatic habitats. For example, wouldn’t it be better to have a reusable bottle that you pay for once and simply refill?  I regularly carry a refillable bottle and carry reusable bags wherever I go.  I did not always do this because it certainly takes practice, but now I feel personally responsible with a sense of pride when I say “no” to plastic. And you can do the same! Since most trash in our waterways actually begins on land, we have the power to prevent it and control the impacts.

Though there are many opportunities to support local volunteer cleanups, the most effective option is prevention.  Remember to dispose of trash properly. Ditch those plastic bags at local stores with plastic collection bins and start using sturdy, reusable bags and recycled and recyclable plastic bottles.  EPA’s Trash Free Waters website is a one-stop shop on how to prevent marine pollution. The Marine Debris Prevention Toolkit has outreach materials that you can use to help curb pollution in your neighborhood. Tell us in the comments about ways you have reduced trash, and helped prevent water pollution, in your community.

About the author: Sherilyn Morgan is an Environmental Scientist with EPA’s Oceans and Dredge Disposal Program that focuses on the protection of coastal and ocean environments including the elimination of trash from waterways.  She enjoys gardening and participating in restoration opportunities that include the care and maintenance of native plants.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Pick Up Your Trash!

By Lina Younes

On the first day of my trip to the beach, I was getting ready to unwind and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

There was hardly anybody in the area we had selected. The setting was idyllic. The powder-like sand, the warm sea breeze, the rhythmic ebb and flow of the waves were setting the right ambiance for a relaxing vacation. As I looked out at the water, however, something caught my attention.
Was it a jellyfish? Was it some other small fish? It wasn’t a bird, so what was it? Well, although the actual sand was very clean, there were some things floating in the water. I got closer and I saw some snack wrappers, candy wrappers, plastic bags and other objects. In other words, marine debris. I guess they might have floated into the water from the nearby public beach or had been left behind by previous vacationers. So what did I do? Well, I proceeded to pick up the floating objects. I even enlisted the help of my youngest daughter and nephew. We filled two small trash cans! On day two of our trip, I hardly saw anything in the floating in the water. At the end of our vacation, we left the beach cleaner than when we first got there.

Did you know that you can make a difference by disposing of your trash properly and preventing it from being carried by rain into a body of water? Did you know that marine debris, especially plastics, is harmful to wildlife and the environment as a whole. Seabirds, marine mammals and sea turtles often ingest floating plastic bags and debris with lethal consequences.

Here’s an EPA video that will shed some light on the adverse effects of marine debris. Even if you don’t go to the beach or live by the coast, there are many things you can do to protect our waterways in your own home. Following the three R’s, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, is a good place to start.

So, next time you go to the beach or park, please pick up after yourself. Don’t leave trash behind. Do you have any tips you would like to share with us? We love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

 

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Think Before You Toss

By Tom Damm

Aside from the occasional crew mate whose stomach can’t handle the high waves, there’s one sight that’s particularly troubling to EPA researchers sampling our coastal waters – garbage and other man-made debris bobbing along in the current.

Marine debris

Credit: Ocean Conservancy

Renee Searfoss, the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Ocean and Dredge Disposal Team Lead, says marine debris – plastic bags, bottles, cans and other items – presents a real problem.  It can have impacts on health, the environment – even our economy, but it takes a special toll on marine life.

Marine life such as turtles and birds – and the fish we catch and eat – mistake this trash for food.  They ingest the debris and it impacts their digestive systems.

Renee says her teams have picked up very tiny pieces of debris, which can pose more of a threat to marine species than larger ones since they’re easier to ingest and cause a slow death or allow toxins to build in the animals’ systems.

Most of this harmful trash begins its journey on land and enters the ocean through our local streams and rivers.  You can help ease the problem by properly disposing of trash and by recycling plastic bottles, bags and cans.

In a new EPA video filmed on the water, Renee says, “There aren’t a lot of creatures out here that can really defend against anything we throw in the oceans at them.”

June is National Oceans Month – a time to be especially aware of how and where we toss our garbage.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Cabin Branch: Let the Healing Begin

By Nick DiPasquale

Most of us who live in an urban or suburban setting really don’t know what a healthy stream looks like.  In some cases we can’t even see streams that run under our roads and shopping centers because they’ve been forced into pipes; out of sight, out of mind.

Cabin Branch pre cleanup

In 2005 a major volunteer cleanup removed 40 tons of tires and debris from Cabin Branch. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

The remnants of streams we can see have been filled with sediment and other pollution and the ecology of the stream has been altered significantly.  The plants and animals that used to live there have long since departed, their habitat having been destroyed.  This didn’t happen overnight.  The environment is suffering “a death by a thousand cuts.”

I recently got the chance to visit the Cabin Branch stream restoration project, not far from my neighborhood in Annapolis.  The project is being undertaken by the Severn Riverkeeper, and is one of many stream restoration projects taking place throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Keith Underwood outlines the progress of the Cabin Branch Regenerative Stream Conveyance restoration project for members of the Chesapeake Bay Program and Maryland Department of Natural Resources .  The project was initiated by the Severn Riverkeeper Program. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Keith Underwood outlines the progress of the Cabin Branch Regenerative Stream Conveyance restoration project for members of the Chesapeake Bay Program and Maryland Department of Natural Resources . The project was initiated by the Severn Riverkeeper Program. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Cabin Branch discharges to the streams and wetlands of Saltworks Creek and the Severn River, which carries the polluted runoff into the Bay.  Aerial photos taken after a modest rain are dramatic testament to a severely damaged ecosystem causing the Severn to run the color of chocolate milk. This same phenomenon is repeated in streams and rivers that run through thousands of communities throughout the watershed.

Polluted runoff is a major source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Severn River and throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Projects like the one at Cabin Branch restore the natural habitat , slows the sediment erosion and allows more nutrients to be absorbed into the soil and plants. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

Polluted runoff is a major source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Severn River and throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Projects like the one at Cabin Branch restore the natural habitat , slows the sediment erosion and allows more nutrients to be absorbed into the soil and plants. (photo courtesy of Severn Riverkeeper Program)

It was gratifying to see the Cabin Branch project first hand – one of many efforts to heal the damage done unknowingly over many decades of development.  Like many projects of this nature, the Severn Riverkeeper Program had to overcome some bureaucratic red tape to get the permits they needed, but their perseverance will be worth the impact in helping clean local waters and the Bay.

The structural features of these projects are designed to safely handle a 100-year storm, while at the same time maximizing baseflow in normal conditions.  The next step will include planting native plants and monitoring the post-restoration flow of nutrients and sediment.  (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

The structural features of these projects are designed to safely handle a 100-year storm, while at the same time maximizing baseflow in normal conditions. The next step will include planting native plants and monitoring the post-restoration flow of nutrients and sediment. (photo by Tom Wenz, EPA CBPO)

Fortunately, we are learning better ways to manage stormwater runoff through low impact development and use of green infrastructure which help to mimic the cleansing functions of nature.   It will take some time before this patient is restored to good health, but we are on the mend.

About the Author: Nick DiPasquale is Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. Nick has nearly 30 years of public policy and environmental management experience in both the public and private sectors.  He previously served as Deputy Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Director of the Environmental Management Center for the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and as Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

You can also see this post and much more Chesapeake Bay content on the Chesapeake Bay Program Blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Single Stream Recycling for New England Communities

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

I stand there staring into the bin of crushed white office paper and newspaper, unwilling to let go of my empty diet soda can. I am supposed to toss it in. I know that this is where our recyclables go now. But old habits die hard. And I have been trained – finally – to sort my plastics, papers, cans and glass into an array of containers, so I am having trouble throwing them together to let some far-off machine undo this miasma.

But our office has gone to what’s called “single stream recycling” and this is what I must do.

You would think it would be easy, a no-brainer. And in the end, it certainly simplifies things to be collecting all bottles, papers and cans into the same bin.

Statistics bear this out. For instance, the town of Wilton, Maine, switched to single stream recycling last fall. It will save thousands of dollars a year, according to the Portland, Maine, newspaper.

Early stats find Wilton residents throwing away 5.5 to 8.5 tons less trash each month and recycling about that much more. Town officials translated this into a savings of anywhere from $4,200 to $6,600 a year. This savings is attributed to the fact that it costs about $65 a ton to dispose of trash and $33 a ton to get rid of recyclables.

And Wilton is far from alone.

According to Massachusetts environmental officials, single stream recycling began on the west coast 10 years ago and reached the Commonwealth in 2006. About 30 Massachusetts communities have converted to single stream, and more are planning the conversion.

The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority reported it has increased diversion rates (the amount diverted from trash to recycling) for six straight years, largely thanks to single-stream recycling.

I joined a group of EPA employees last year to see how single stream recyclables get separated. The giant machinery involved gravity, wind, filters, conveyor belts and lots of workers removing plastic bags.

Huge truckloads of cans, jars, newspaper, office paper, yogurt containers and you- name-it were dumped on conveyor belts and sorted into separate piles, with only a few alien pieces in each collection.

And so slowly I am adjusting. I have learned the joy of throwing my cans and cups in one container I still feel like I am littering, but at least I get to feel good about it.

More EPA info on recycling

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Exhibit Alert, DC Area! Reclaiming the Edge

By Christina Catanese

Spending the holidays in the Washington, DC area?  Already checked out the National Christmas Tree and not sure what else to do with those holiday guests?  There is one celebratory exhibit you don’t want to miss.

Recently opened at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum (ACM), Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagementisan exhibition on the history, use, and attitudes towards urban waterways.  It was created in partnership between EPA,  watershed partners, and the ACM.

The exhibition focuses on the Anacostia River and its watershed, and how humans interact with this natural resource in an urban setting.  There are also examinations of how people engage with urban waters in other cities – including Shanghai, China; Pittsburgh, PA; Charleston, SC; Louisville, KY; Los Angeles, CA; and London, England – so we can share experiences in diverse geographies.

The exhibition includes an art installation created from trash and found objects which often find their way into urban waterways, historic boats used by Native Americans and contemporary fishermen, large-scale historic photographs of the watershed as the District of Columbia developed, and life-size cutouts of residents, community activists, and leaders in the watershed that tell the story of their connection and stewardship of the river.  And interactive portions of the exhibit will engage watershed residents of all ages and backgrounds.

There are also exciting events related to the exhibition, including art and nature workshops for students and teachers, community forums on various uses of the river, monthly films, and even water-inspired dance workshops. The diversity of these programs themselves is a testament to the potential of safe and clean urban waters, and the communities and activities they can inspire.

Even if the Anacostia is not your local river, it’s a perfect opportunity to consider how to re-imagine this urban river for community access and use.  Don’t miss the chance to learn about the history and current state of this watershed and how you can participate in its restoration and protection.

Not able to check out the exhibit during the holiday rush?  Don’t fret – it’s on display through September 2013, so there’s plenty of time.  Here’s how to get to the Anacostia Community Museum.

Let us know what you think of the exhibit if you check it out!  And tell us how you engage with and celebrate your urban waterways all year long.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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One Man’s Trash or Treasure?

paperWhat do you do with a ton of used paper?

No, this is not a trick question and the answer isn’t “throw it away.”

Recently, a group of 6th grade students in Hebron, Nebraska taught me a new way to use all that extra paper. They’ve come up with a way to use shredded paper and turn it into pulp.  Using little cups as molds, they shaped the pulp into starter pots. The pots would dry for a week and then they would add a second layer of pulp to make the pot sturdy and strong.

After the pot would dry, the students would add soil and plant flowers to grow.  These students then adopted a “grandparent” at the local elder care community center, where they gave away the potted plants.  The neatest thing was watching the students share their recycling and reuse art project with their new friends.

The students are diverting hundreds of pounds of paper waste with this project.   What are some ways you can reuse paper in the community?

Yvonne Gonzalez is a SCEP intern with the Air and Radiation Division in Region 5.  She recently received a dual graduate degree from DePaul University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Inspired By The NFL

By Gina Snyder

When I was a teenager, we used to play touch football in the neighborhood. Whoever was around would be allowed to play, regardless of ability or age. Super Bowl Sunday brought me back to those memories of what seemed like a simpler time.

But maybe it wasn’t so simple. In those days, we used to drive trash over to the “town dump” and toss it into a former gravel pit. Things have changed and the NFL has changed with the times.

The NFL worked to minimize the environmental impact of Super Bowl activities. And in reading what they were doing, I saw that the NFL’s activities and actions were so easy we can scale them to our personal actions.

The first activity they listed dealt with trash. NFL event facilities diverted trash by recycling and reusing potential waste materials. The Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indiana Convention Center, and hotels serving as team headquarters, as well as the NFL headquarters and the Motorola Super Bowl Media Center all participated. The JW Marriott hotel also took part in a composting pilot project during Super Bowl week. Food waste scraps were collected in compostable bags and taken to a facility to be converted into nutrient-rich compost.

Massachusetts has extensive recycling programs and so, like the NFL Superbowl Committee, we can divert waste from the trash through our recycling and our composting programs. Inspired by the NFL, I put my recycling bin out for my guests on Superbowl Sunday and collected cans, bottles and plastics. And I composted paper and food scraps.

The NFL even launched a Superbowl Climate Change Initiative with steps taken to reduce the overall greenhouse gas impact of Super Bowl activities and events. The organization used renewable energy certificates to provide “green” power for major Super Bowl XLVI event venues and is planting several thousand trees in neighborhoods in partnership with ‘Keep Indianapolis Beautiful’ as part of the “greening” of Super Bowl XLVI. Again following the NFL, I plan to participate in a local tree donation program this spring and contribute to the greening of my community, too. There are so many ways to participate locally in NFL’s greening efforts. Let us know your ideas.

About the author: Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental and Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and has been a volunteer river monitor on the Ipswich River, where she also picks up trash every time she monitors the water quality.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Bay Website Focuses on Action

By Tom Damm

Click here to view a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

There’s a new look to EPA’s Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” website.

The pollution diet, or Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), was established by EPA in December 2010, based largely on action plans provided by the watershed’s six states and the District of Columbia.

The website now has a greater focus on activities at the local level happening around the 64,000-square-mile Bay watershed to reduce pollution impacting the Bay and its vast network of connecting rivers and streams.

One of the new additions is a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

Check out those case studies and the other new items on the site, and let us know what you think.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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