Friday, January 7, 2011

20th Anniversary of American Rivers’ National River Cleanup Brings Dubious Celebration

Ben Lawhon, Education Director for Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics, joined the American Rivers blog in September to share tips for minimizing impacts on the river. It was an important reminder, and one to which many of our members responded positively.

Just as important to remember is that what we do off the river, and in our daily lives, impacts our water as well.

Every year, as part of American Rivers’ National River Cleanup, volunteers across the country witness firsthand the importance of following Leave No Trace principles. In 2010, nearly 60,000 dedicated volunteers working with the National River Cleanup program registered 322 clean up sites in 45 states, and removed 1200 tons of trash from nearly 6,000 miles of river. The trash removed ranged from cigarette butts to large appliances with a few mattresses, tires and other random things thrown in for variety.

1200 tons of trash. It’s mind boggling to contemplate. More than trash left behind during outdoor excursions, the majority of trash pulled from rivers across the country was a result of items used in our daily lives; plastic single-use water and sports drink bottles, Styrofoam takeout containers, plastic bags.

We’re celebrating National River Cleanup’s 20th Anniversary this year, and while we’re thrilled with the dedication of our volunteers who regularly get together, show up in sun, wind, rain and occasionally snow to pull trash from banks, beds and mid-stream, “celebration” probably isn’t the right word.

At the end of every cleanup, Ginny Crake, the National River Cleanup Manager, gives what she calls her “trash talk,” about the importance of making smart decisions in regards to packaging, waste and recycling. Ginny said of her trash talks, “I’m trying to work myself out of my job. We shouldn’t have to talk about trash, because there are bigger things to talk about, but it’s there, and it’s a problem.”

River cleanups aren’t the solution to the trash that plagues our rivers and streams. Following Leave No Trace and being proactive and responsible with trash, both outdoors and in, is the only solution.

As more and more people adopt Leave No Trace principles, as they’re shared with friends and family and strangers on the street, the need for cleanups will decline and hopefully, the need will eventually disappear altogether.

That’s when we’ll really celebrate.

Until then, you can help keep our waterways clean by organizing or participating in a cleanup near you. Already have a cleanup planned? Register with us to receive free trash bags and organizer tools.

Molly McCluskey is American Rivers’ Associate Director of Communications. She’s held positions with Save the Redwoods League, Earth Share of California, the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service. She was first introduced to Leave No Trace as an outdoor educator in 2000.

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