Sunday, April 02, 2006

A River of Trash Runs Through It

Styroefoam is evil.

That's what the lady told us yesterday as we waited at Lakeside Nature Center to fan out for Project Blue River Rescue. Held every first Saturday of April, the rescue is when 500 volunteers clean the Blue River, a tributary of the Missouri River.

Johnny and I signed up to help after seeing all the trash in the creek at Lakeside Nature Center. We stood among the mostly University of Missouri-Kansas City students as we waited for our assignment. Several students from other countries volunteered as part of their foreign exchange program, a guy from China told me. I would have been embarrassed for them to see what a mess we've made of things in America, but I know that pollution is a world problem, and not just unique to our country.

Our first stop was where a storm drain carried rain water over rocks and into the river. We climbed over the rocks, picking up plastic pop bottles, aluminum cans and plastic bags.

In an illustration of how the storm drains contribute to river pollution, I found a gas cap on the rocks. When it rains, anything in the street flows into the gutters, which carry water into the rivers and creeks. That includes oil from cars, pesticides, gasoline and household and industrial chemicals.

To stem this problem, Kansas City environmental activists are trying to get people to plant 1,000 rain gardens in their yards this year. Rain gardens, planted at the low point of a yard, catch the rain as water-loving plants soak it up. This reduces the amount of trash and chemical carrying water that reaches the storm drains and then the creeks. To learn how to build one in K.C., or in your city, go to

As we moved onto cleaning an urban forest beside the river in the afternoon, Johnny said, "This is like a trash graveyard."

That was a good description. The floodwaters had deposited trash all along the riverbanks; there was a can or bottle every square foot. I didn't see a lot of styrofoam, but I came to see soft drink bottles and beer cans are the enemy.

Johnny said, "I'm going to call the president and tell him there needs to be a law. No throwing trash where animals are."

When I told him that law already was on the books, he suggested the president stiffen the punishment to jail time instead of fines.

The thing is, I think a lot of the littering is probably unintentional. Someone kicks a piece of trash out of their car as they step out. Recyclables blow out of the bin before the truck comes. An overflowing trashcan spills into the wind. A little bit here and there, and you've got a big problem in the creeks, where everything ends up.

And because nobody visits the rivers and creeks anymore, the junk that got there little by little doesn't get picked up little by little. Add to that the on-the-go culture we have, in which people are so busy, they have to drink their beers in the car (apparently) rather than sitting down for a nice pint and you've got trash every square foot along the river banks.

Now, some littering is obviously intentional. Last year, the stream team picked up 1,000 tires and 14 cars. Cars and tires don't just blow away (Thank God.) Although roller skates apparently do. We found one in-line skate along the banks yesterday. And I'm sure some people throw their trash out their windows or at their feet. But as we filled a few bags yesterday, I couldn't help but think Johnny and I were just picking up after ourselves. Playing our Get Out of Jail Free card, so to speak.

The next Blue River Rescue is in April, 2007. For a list of Missouri River cleanup activities, which happen from Atchison, Kan. to St. Charles, Mo., visit


Anonymous mom said...

thanks to you and johnny for helping make our city cleaner.

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a good Mom you are. Your boys will be the activists of the future, though it may be counterproductive to call the "enemy" booty in the butt as a revolutionary cry. It is days like you and Johnny had yesterday that will stick in his mind and in turn he will do those things with his children. Thanks for cleaning up the earth for my future grandchildren!

10:50 AM  

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