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One Man’s Trash…

2014 June 5
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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One Response leave one →
  1. Joe Nicholson permalink
    August 28, 2014

    I couldn’t agree more. But why can’t Congress (or even the EPA) address the problem on a far grander scale than neighborhood trash pickups? With bottled water selling for as little as 10 cents a bottle in many areas, it is difficult to control consumers looking with good reason to stock the fridge with options other than sugar-laden sodas and caffeine-rich “energy” drinks. We have so-called “sin” taxes on gas and cigarettes, so maybe it’s time to adjust people’s behavior that way with plastic too. I also don’t understand why some beverages are exempt from the nickel deposits required of others. I am thinking here of several well known sport drinks, for example.

    In another area, lawmakers or regulators could easily force the makers of electronics, such as cell phones, cameras, computers of all kinds, etc., to refrain from making slight changes in design with every new “edition” of a product. Our landfills are loaded with unnecessary solid waste of this kind, from batteries to chargers to peripherals.

    I suppose the answer to each of my questions comes down to the word “lobbyists”. That is totally wrong in my view. The environment should come first.

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