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Don't be Trashy: lessons from litter

By Jana Fischback

This year, instead of hosting just one volunteer opportunity on Make a Difference Day, October 24th, we at Sustainable Wenatchee decided to host a series of litter pick-ups each Sunday afternoon throughout the month of October. It was nice to finally be able to host an in-person event that was a safe way for people to get together and, well, make a difference.

Litter strewn about near the Easy St Park & Ride

The first place we cleaned up was the area around the Easy Street Park & Ride, near the intersection of highway 2 and Easy Street. We had planned to go along the highway but found we had plenty of work to do just surrounding the parking lot itself.

What really stood out to me was the way things were degrading. There’s no way to know how long they’ve been there, but I was surprised at how some of the plastic just crumbled with a light touch. When I tried to grab a plastic shopping bag, it broke apart in my hands. The same thing happened with plastic caps from a water or soda bottle; some had become very brittle. Also interesting to see was how some paper didn’t seem to degrade. Receipt paper was bleached, but because it is thermal paper that has added coatings - sometimes BPA or BPS which are endocrine disrupters to boot - it really didn’t appear to be breaking down at all. Maybe most impacting of all was the number of disposable face masks and disinfecting wipes. We knew we would find a few, but with just four of us working for one hour, we collected about 30 masks. The wipes were similar to the receipt paper in that, even though you'd think they'd be primarily made out of cotton, they weren't really degrading.

The fate of a littered face mask

The next Sunday a group met up Canyon No. 2 and got several bags worth of litter. The Sunday after that, we met at the Saddle Rock trailhead and picked up not only litter but dog poop along the trail. [Read here about the health & environmental implications of abandoned dog poop.] Thanks to Chelan-Douglas Land Trust for loaning us their “poo tongs.” I estimate we picked up about 10 pounds of poo - yuck! The last clean up location was along the loop trail and highway 2 in East Wenatchee, near the Odabashian bridge. I drive by that area fairly often and am always shocked at the amount of litter. That group was our largest - 16 people - and they got a LOT of litter there.

Great haul from the East Wenatchee loop group!

While it was sometimes a nasty task, overall these clean ups were extremely fulfilling. Many people honked or rolled down windows to thank us for our work. The amount we collected was also staggering: each afternoon our groups ranged from just four to 16, and each time we only spent an hour or two picking up, but we estimate we collected at least 200 pounds of garbage. It was so worthwhile that we’re looking into making this a regular volunteer opportunity, possibly “adopting” a road or at least getting together each spring and fall in an area that needs some love.

Thank you to all who joined us this fall!

Henry with his finds: a $2 bill and rat skull

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