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April 18th, 2019

Trash in the rivers

I was very pleased to see Mr. Trash Wheel get his due from NPR recently. I know some of you are big fans too because you introduced me to him first: https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/04/16/mr-trash-wheel-baltimore

The thing I love the most about Mr. Trash Wheel is just that it's such a genius design. The googly eyes especially, but really, the entire package. It is so clever to turn something like that into an attraction that draws positive attention to a problem and encourages people to make social changes.

Back in college, when we switched over from rowing on the Charles River to rowing on the Malden River, we were immediately struck by how much trash and debris were flowing into the Malden. It was both depressing and dangerous, so at one point, we organized ourselves to do a river cleanup day.

During the cleanup, we soon determined that we weren't going to manage to actually get the river cleaned up. The best we could hope for was to remove the uppermost layer of trash and litter from the banks. At the time I was already somewhat aware of how many disposable beverage containers people tended to use, but it's still different to go from knowing in the abstract to seeing it in person and having to pick it all up, piece by piece. The styrofoam cups were the worst, but there were a whole lot of plastic bottles, too. That hardened my resolve to aim to always drink from reusable containers.

When I've gone back over to the Malden in more recent years, I've been struck by how much it has gotten cleaned up. The main reason we switched to rowing there was because a developer had bought a stretch of former industrial property but couldn't make direct use of land right next to the river, for legal reasons. So they arranged a long-term lease with our coach and that allowed Tufts to build a boathouse right along the riverbank. By now, the area that I used to describe as an industrial wasteland back in 2002-2003 feels more like a park along a river.

But I suspect the river still sees close to the same amount of trash input. Shortly after we started to row there, our coach worked with city folks to get caps installed on the major river inlets, which helped to at least trap some stuff and keep it from flowing into the river. Other things can still easily get blown right in. I imagine those caps are still there, and that they still require regular maintenance. The Malden River might not be the best candidate for a Mr. Trash Wheel of its own, but with rowers and other people spending time on it, there's at least some hope that people will help turn back the garbage tide.

Don't let me get started on the Hudson.

This entry was originally posted at https://rebeccmeister.dreamwidth.org/1290368.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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