On average, most individuals generate seven pounds of trash every day--and that means we create 250 million tons of trash every year. Lots of our trash ends up on the ground because people litter. In fact, littering is a global problem that harms plants and ecosystem services; wildlife living amongst litter and communities struggling with blight. Our trash travels! When we litter our trash travels through streams and rivers and finds its way to the ocean, even though we are miles from the coast. It is estimated nine billion tons of trash ends up in our water and the ocean.
This year, the Heartland Conservation Alliance Youth Council is taking a stand against littering and illegal dumping. This spring they are launching a campaign to prevent cigarette litter, which makes up half of all litter found. It will take one cigarette butt 10 years to fully decompose. They contain harmful chemicals that can be deposited into the soil or digested by animals.
Their campaign will also help raise awareness about plastic. Plastic is another common and deadly form of litter, especially to ocean life. Small pieces of trash, such as cigarette butts and microplastics can block the sun from plankton and algae wreaking havoc on the food web. Microplastics have been consumed by over 200 species and by all seabirds at this point. Krill feast on algae that emits dimethyl sulfide with a distinct sulfur odor. This has caused seabirds who eat krill to associate dimethyl sulfide with food. Dimethyl sulfide signatures can be found in microplastics that have been in the ocean for less than a month as these plastic particles serve as a platform for algae to grow. Plastic never returns to any other form and sea turtles, fish, and other animals consume the plastic because they think it looks like their natural food sources.
Getting involved is an important way to change how you think and act. And volunteering to pick up trash does make a difference. In 2016 a total of 104 volunteers collected almost 3,000 pounds of litter. At one local litter cleanup every year, Project Blue River Rescue, volunteers collected hundreds of pound of litter and more than 1,000 tires. They clean up many illegal dumps along the Blue River and removed items like cars, toilets and mattresses.
We encourage you to get involved with this fun and important effort. This year, Project Blue River Rescue will be held on Saturday, April 7, 2018 at Lakeside Nature Center. Sign up to be a part of the Heartland Conservation’s crew here or learn more about the event online.
Though cleanup efforts lessen the effect of litter, prevention is the best tool against litter. But this means changing mindsets and behaviors. Don’t throw your trash or cigarettes out the window of your car. Keep a bag in your car to collect your trash. If you see trash on the road or in your yard, take a minute to pick it up before it can kill an animal or harm our environment.
Together we can make a difference and improve our community. Together we can make Kansas City, the Blue River Watershed and our oceans, cleaner and safer places. You can promote restoring health to the Blue River by using #renewtheblue when you work in the Blue River Watershed.