From Sound Rivers
A litter collection device installed this week on a Washington creek is good for the environment — and research into the impact of plastic degradation on waterways and aquatic life.
On Wednesday, Sound Rivers staff and a team of volunteers anchored a Trash Trout on the banks of Jack’s Creek, just east of Market Street. The litter trap will collect waste from the creek, whose watershed drains much of the city’s stormwater after heavy rains.
The objective is twofold: to prevent litter from flowing down the Pamlico River and to collect data for “Improving Human and Ecosystem Health through Microplastic Reduction”, a research study on the impact of plastic pollution on the environment. Thanks to a $188,000 state grant to Waterkeepers Carolina, 14 North Carolina Riverkeepers are participating in the two-year study, including Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell of Sound Rivers and Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop.
“A big part of this project is about information or research-gathering. We know there is a ton of plastic pollution in the environment – we see it all the time, in terms of litter in the river, macroplastics like plastic bottles and bags. This will help us understand how macroplastics break down over time and how they are deposited in water and soil,” Howell said. “They’re not leaving. They break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but they don’t disappear.
Measuring less than five millimeters in length, microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that can be harmful to waterways and aquatic life. As macroplastics break down into microplastics, they become an environmental and public health problem. Because they are so small, microplastics are not picked up by water filtration systems and are often eaten by fish, birds and other aquatic animals, negatively impacting the health of wildlife and , therefore, humans.
“If fish are ingesting microplastics and we’re eating fish, that means we’re also at risk,” Howell said.
In partnership with the Plastic Ocean Project at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and the Duke Law and Policy Clinic, Waterkeepers Carolina, a coalition of North Carolina Riverkeepers, launched the study last year, with a sampling of microplastic pollution in 30 urban and rural waterways. The next step is to install Trash Trouts to collect macroplastics in these locations to better understand the sources of the microplastics found.
“The traps are a way to, first, clean up litter, and, second, we can look and see what kind of litter is in our streams, what the actual composition of the litter is, and what that it’s plastic,” Howell said.
With the help of City of Washington staff, Sound Rivers identified the best location to install the Trash Trout on Jack’s Creek. The device is designed to withstand the rigors of flash rain events, allowing water to flow unhindered through the trap, while capturing larger pieces of trash floating downstream. Once the waste is captured, it will be manually removed and “checked” or sorted.
“It’s helpful to know what kind of waste is ending up in our waterways, so we know how to stop it from getting there in the first place,” Howell said.
Sound Rivers will install two more Trash Trouts in the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse watersheds: one on Lawson Creek in New Bern and another in the Walnut Creek area in Raleigh.
Howell said Sound Rivers is looking for volunteers to help with the project: those who can regularly check trout to see if they need cleaning; those willing to wade through the water to remove litter from traps; and people to sort the resulting waste. For more information on how to volunteer, email [email protected]
Sound Rivers is a nonprofit environmental organization that works with concerned residents to protect waterways, and the people who depend on them, in the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse watersheds that cover 23% of North Carolina’s land mass. North. Sound Rivers is based in Washington, New Bern and Raleigh. For more information, visit sounddrivers.org.