What We Learned from Our Earth Day Trash Cleanup

As part of an EPA funded litter-study, our Earth Day celebrations this year were all about trash—and visioning a trash-free watershed.

Most trash that enters waterways in urban areas is introduced by stormwater pipe networks. Rain washes trash items into storm drains, and underground pipe networks carry it directly to the river. So the first—and most practical—place to estimate quantities of trash in the river is on city streets themselves. In partnership with dedicated volunteers, we spent the month of April performing visual trash assessments throughout the watershed to determine:  where are  the most heavily-littered neighborhoods and major litter sources are located? And, what kind of trash is accumulating?

On Earth Day, April 21st, we set out with 50 volunteers to collect, categorize and remove trash from Torbert Macdonald Park in Medford. In just over an hour, we were able to collect almost 80 pounds of trash! Thanks to our dedicated volunteers, we counted and categorized half of this trash. We broke the trash into almost forty categories; first based on material (paper, glass, metal, plastic, and other), and then further into uses such as water bottles, food packaging, cigarettes, etc. Overall, our volunteers counted almost 2,000 discrete trash items. Below is a breakdown of some of the interesting finds.

The most abundant items:

  • 463 small fragments (we asked volunteers to remove even small pieces of trash)

  • 238 cigarettes

  • 193 plastic bags

  • 161 styrofoam food packaging items (mostly Dunkin and Seven Eleven)

  • 128 plastic food wrappers

  • 148 plastic beverage/water bottles

  • 105 paper fragments

  • 40 glass bottles

  • 36 straws

  • 35 bottle caps

  • 34 cans

  • 27 candy wrappers

  • Over 20 fast food paper items like cups and napkins - mostly from Dunkin

Unique items collected:

  • Parking ticket

  • Homework

  • Fake plant

  • Traffic cone and bricks

All of the data collected will be used to gain a better understanding of where river trash is coming from within the watershed, allowing us to develop location-specific plans to prevent future trash from entering the Mystic River.

Thank you for all that you are doing to keep the Mystic trash-free!