Some say grocery store plastic bags are the #1 trash item. Others say plastic bottles, while still others say styrofoam. What is really the number one trash item found?
A short answer to this question is it depends on where you are and how data is collected. Another short answer is that all statements are correct.
When you walk along a tributary to a larger river such as the Anacostia River, you will likely see plastic bags and assume this is our #1 trash item. Plastic bags are easily snagged by vegetation such as tree branches, so they are often seen in and along tributaries. Jim Collier and Cynthia Collier, contractors for the AWS, conducted a survey and wrote a report on trash in 2008 titled ANACOSTIA WATERSHED TRASH REDUCTION PLAN. According to their survey, approximately 47% of trash pieces that were counted in streams were plastic grocery bags-- the #1 category.
Due to the frustration of both AWS and volunteers who have been picking up trash over and over along our river’s shores, I was given a project in 2008 to design and install a trash trap in a small stream called Nash Run that flows through parts of Prince George’s County and the northeast area of Washington, D.C. The goal is to catch the trash around the mouth of the stream before it is carried into the tidal portion of the Anacostia via Kenilworth Marsh especially during heavy rains.
The words of Volume and Velocity penetrated into environmental and other conservation communities as keywords to restore our streams. However, here is another keyword that is still not yet well-known.
The word is Frequency.
Disclaimer: the ideas presented here are the water quality specialist’s personal view and is not AWS’s view on the definition of a swimmable Anacostia River.
When I joined the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) in 2002, I started to be involved in a project called Flagging Project. In the project I took samples every business day from June through October in 2002 and 2003, measured the water for various parameters including Fecal Coliform Bacteria. Since it takes about 24 hours to analyze water for fecal bacteria, I forecasted the fecal bacteria testing results based on accumulated data, rainfall precipitation, conductivity, etc. The forecast was made if the fecal bacteria level will meet a boating standard or not.
Thanks to many people who volunteered to maintain our Nash Run Trash Trap, it has been working very well. The trap has captured about 3,000 lbs of trash (water/contents of bottles drained, no leaves and other natural organic matter) collected from February 2009 through March 2011.
On March 18, 2001, Water Quality Specialist Masaya Maeda of Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) along with energetic volunteers, a carver - Bob Kraft, and Chris Moore, took macroinvertebrates from Upper Beaverdam Creek of the Anacostia River. Macroinvertebrates are bottom-dwelling aquatic insects. Some insects like to live in clean water; others are tolerant to pollution. By identifying insects we can learn whether the stream is clean or polluted.
Bob Kraft taking samples