TRASH HERE, TRASH THERE, TRASH EVERYWHERE

 

Erica A. Hay, Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36688. E-mail: ehay@jaguar1.usouthal.edu.

 

            Unsightly trash has become a large concern for the Dog River Watershed. The Dog River Watershed, located in Mobile, Alabama, covers 95 square miles of land in both Mobile City and Mobile County. Within this area, the Dog River Watershed stretches out its tributaries to help drain what are now well-developed residential and commercial areas. One such area surrounds Eslava Creek, which is one of Dog River’s tributaries. It is in these areas that litter is being introduced in high amounts, spoiling the aesthetic beauty of Mobile. It is the purpose of this paper to argue that the trash is being introduced mainly by the commercial areas rather than the residential areas and that paper and plastic are the main pollutants of Eslava Creek. To do this I first performed observations of the research area and recorded the most prominent type of trash found in both the commercial and the residential locations. Second, I recorded the most prominent type of litter found within Eslava Creek. Third, I categorized the recorded data and determined which type of trash came from which source, residential or commercial. Finally, I produced comparative graphs that showed the high number of plastic shopping bags and labeled commercial containers. These findings indicate that the commercial area is responsible for producing the majority of the trash found in Eslava Creek.

            Keywords: litter, Dog River Watershed.

 

Introduction:

            Over the past few years, the Dog River Watershed has experienced an increasingly large amount of trash and litter within its upper tributaries. What used to be clean is now covered by garbage that lines the sides of the creeks making the areas unappealing to the eye. Overall, litter and trash are considered as the number one problem affecting clean water within the state of Alabama. This litter can include household garbage, construction debris, or paper and debris left in a parking lot (ADEM, 2005). As a result, this trash is either blown or washed down into storm drains leading into creeks and streams, creating pollution. However, one person cannot clean an entire state all by himself or herself. Instead, one can help by cleaning up their local community starting with their local watershed. In this case, the Dog River Watershed is a perfect place for local Mobile citizens to take action in helping to clean up their beautiful city. 

            One area in particular within the Dog River Watershed’s upper tributaries incorporates Eslava Creek, which has been subjected to influxes of trash from its surrounding communities. The areas surrounding Eslava Creek contain both growing commercial and residential areas. For purposes of this project, the commercial areas mentioned above are in reference to Springdale Mall’s rear parking lot. The residential areas mentioned above are in reference to the area “designed for residence or limited to residences” directly across from Springdale’s rear parking lot (Answers, 2006). Eslava Creek flows in-between these two areas.

         Within these areas, litter is introduced into Eslava Creek in large quantities. “Each American generates about 4.5 pounds of trash per day, some portion of which can be found in a shopping center’s waste streams” (EPA, 2004). As a result, the trash moves downstream into Dog River, and then eventually out into Mobile Bay. The movement of trash in this manner is a danger to the Dog River Watershed ecosystem as the litter is unsanitary and can possibly be ingested by local wildlife (AUMERC, No Date). In addition, the scenic value of our beautiful watershed is threatened.  

            The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) performed a survey of the Dog River Watershed in both 1994 and 1995. In the first report, ADEM concluded: “Eslava Creek was found to be littered with a significant amount of urban street refuse, litter, lawn clippings and other solid waste”. They go on to say, “Items frequently observed were plastic soda bottles, paper cups, empty oil containers, styrofoam objects and packaging material such as plastic wrap and cardboard” (ADEM, 1994). In 1995, ADEM again went into the field and reported on Eslava Creek. The report stated: “Trash and litter continue to be the number one pollution problem in Eslava Creek, Bolton Branch and the upper most segments of the Dog River. Considerable quantities of plastic wrapping, plastic bottles, styrofoam cups and assorted paper items appear in these steams following a rainstorm” (ADEM, 1995).

It is important that the communities, both commercial and residential, in the surrounding upper tributaries of Dog River become aware of this problem and educate themselves on the sources of litter. Mobile is a proud city, determined to share its beauty and culture with visitors from all across America (City of Mobile, 2006). A clean city, from the standpoint of tourism, is necessary. By educating the public about the litter problem, the city can improve upon the enforcement of solid waste and litter ordinances, as well as join the Dog River communities together in changing their behaviors when disposing of litter (Keep America Beautiful, 2004). Furthermore, plans can be implemented for the clean up of specific problem areas in an attempt to help control how much trash is introduced to the environment by the commercial and residential areas. These plans could incorporate strategic placement of recycling bins or trash bins that people could easily reach and use to dispose of their trash properly.

 

Research Question

            In this study, I am going to address the problem of litter within a section of Eslava Creek. To do this, I will answer the questions “How do the trash items differ between commercial areas verses residential areas?” and “What is the most prominent type of trash found within the commercial area, the residential area, and Eslava Creek?” By answering these questions I hope to identify the “trouble spots”, where the trash content in the creek is a major problem, and the “trouble trash”, to help discover any possible sources so that actions can be taken to reduce the amounts of trash within the Dog River Watershed.

 

Methods

            In answering these questions, I had to first define the study area so that the commercial areas and the residential areas were comparable in size. Using Google Map, I was able to obtain a satellite view of the study area and determined that Springdale rear parking lot’s area was about 285,000 ft2. Using the same method, I determined that the adjacent residential area area’s was about 360,000 ft2 (Figure 1). These are not absolute measurements because Google Map has not been updated since the recent construction and renovation of Sam’s Club. Therefore, the rear parking lot’s area could be increased closer to the residential neighborhood’s area.

            After the study area was defined, an assistant and I went to the study area and began collecting data. Using predefined categories of plastic beverage container, paper, aluminum beverage cans, steel cans, glass, Styrofoam packaging, and other (Keep Mobile Recycling, 2006), a simple counting technique was implemented to separate the trash. However, it was later decided to add plastic bags to the list of predefined categories and “other” would just document the interesting types of trash found.

            Our first task in data collection was to evaluate the litter on the banks and within Eslava Creek. My assistant was assigned to look for aluminum beverage cans, paper, and Styrofoam packaging. I looked for plastic beverage containers, steel cans, glass, and other. For each category, we walked the bank of Eslava Creek only once, paying attention to one bank at a time. A bank, for purposes of this project, means one side of the creek that is separated by the fastest flow of the creek. This area also includes the sloping area surrounding the creek. After the data was collected for one bank, we crossed to the other and continued to separate the trash into categories using the same method.

            After we completed our evaluation of selected area in Eslava Creek, we then moved to the commercial area to the south of the creek. We walked through the parking lot, paying close attention to the gutters and to the back of the stores to see what types of trash we could find. We also took special notice of the dumpsters and the areas surrounding the dumpsters used by the different stores.

            Once we finished our evaluation of the commercial area, we then drove to the residential areas on Ralston Road, located to the north of Eslava Creek. We were unable to walk through the back yards of the homes on the south side of the street. However, we were able to walk along the street and took note of any trash lying around the front and sides of the households to the south. We did not take note of any trash in the yards to the north of Ralston Road due to the already large study area in comparison to the commercial study area.

            To relieve any bias, we followed the creek upstream along Springdale Boulevard looking for sources of trash that may have influenced our results. This included open dumpsters and knocked over trashcans within ten feet of Eslava creek’s banks.

            After the data had been collected in the field, I then entered it into Microsoft Excel. Using these tables of data, I was able to generate graphs to help answer my research questions.

Results 

            The results showed that the amount of trash items tended to be higher in the commercial area rather than the residential area as shown in Figure 2. The residential area had close to no trash within their yards, while the commercial area had trash surrounding their rear docking areas. However, between the two areas, paper was the most prominent type of trash found within both the commercial and residential areas.

            The data also revealed that paper was the most prominent type of trash found within Eslava Creek, with plastic bags as a close second (Figure 3). Much of this paper consisted of McDonald’s and Burger King bags, as well as napkins and commercial paper cups. The majority of the plastic bags was from Wal-Mart and was located on the southern bank (commercial side) of Eslava Creek. Aluminum beverage cans came in third and were mainly located on the northern bank (residential side) of Eslava Creek.

            Notes were taken on the “other” category to show what other random types of litter were found within the Eslava Creek study area. Insulation, gas cap, bike pedal, multiple shopping carts (from Linens and Things), for sale sign, and a pillow case were just some of the extraneous trash found in the water. On the northern bank, a tire, an axle, two hubs for a car, packaging materials, many cigarette butts, and an old VHS tape were found.

 

Discussion/Conclusion

            After conducting the research and comparing the types of trash found within the study area, it became apparent that paper and plastic are a growing concern for Eslava Creek. Although previous reports have mentioned paper and plastic as sources of pollution for the creek, the reports did not emphasize the extreme nature of this pollution problem. Plastic bags are not only degrading to the scenery, but also can cause major problems for local wildlife. Paper can also be an eye sore and it is therefore, necessary to inform the public and commercial officials that the proper disposal of paper and plastic items needs to be implemented if the Dog River Watershed is to ever retain its aesthetic beauty. “Education and awareness are essential components to successful litter prevention… It’s all about behavior modification and personal responsibility” (Perry, 2002).       Both residential and commercial areas play an important role in keeping the Eslava Creek clean.

         Since the majority of the trash is from the commercial area, there are many things the commercial businesses can do to help deter this growing pollution problem. First of all, “According to the litter ordinance, businesses are responsible for litter around their facility, for litter that blows onto right-of-ways and adjoining property, for litter created while working elsewhere, and for litter from a company truck or vehicle” (Dog River Clear Water Revival, 2006). Second, by help reducing the amount of pollution produced by commercial businesses, companies can save money in overall costs. Many businesses nation wide have begun to reduce, recycle, and reuse.

         Beyond recycling, retailers have also cut costs through waste prevention by identifying and eliminating items such as excess packaging at their source, before they become waste. Reusing items such as shipping pallets or hangers also has great potential. And for shopping centers that decide to involve the public in their reuse         and recycling efforts through public education and events, the result can be a positive image…” (EPA, 2004).

However, my research shows that businesses are not doing their share of cleaning around their facilities. My assistant and I saw many open dumpsters with trash and debris free to blow out at any time. We also saw that much of the trash found in the commercial area was located near the loading dock next to the dumpster. By simply bagging trash and closing the dumpsters, the commercial area could reduce their pollution to almost nothing.

            The people in the residential area can maintain pollution fee zones as well by continuing to keep their lawns free of litter and closing the lids on their trash cans.  Residents can also help reduce the amount of paper and plastic pollution by recycling at the City’s recycling center located at 1451 Government Street (City of Mobile, No Date). Although paper and plastic are the major contributors to Eslava Creek pollution, metal and glass can also be taken to the recycling center.

            This project can be continually updated from year to year. It is a relatively simple process and can help provide information to the public on pollution improvements for the Eslava Creek area. This study also shows how well the residential and commercial areas are responding to education and the enforcement of city ordinances.

            In conclusion, the Dog River Watershed is extremely important to the aesthetic appeal of Mobile. If commercial businesses and the public do their share of keeping our watershed clean, then future generations can enjoy its beauty. Until then however, Eslava Creek as well as the Dog River Watershed will remain polluted and tainted by our ignorance.

 

References Cited

ADEM. 3 March 2005. Litter and Illegal Dumping: The Number One Visual Form of Pollution. Alabama Department of Environmental Management.. 11 April 2006. Available: <http://www.adem.state.al.us/Education%20Div/TakeAction/litterdumping.htm>.

 

ADEM Technical Report. May 1994. A Survey of the Dog River Watershed. Alabama Department of Environmental Management. 35.

 

ADEM Technical Report. November 1995. A Survey of the Dog River Watershed Second Year’s Findings. Alabama Department of Environmental Management. 8.

 

Answers.com. 2006. Definition and Much More From Answers.com. Answers. 7 March 2006. Available: <http://www.answers.com/residential>.

 

Auburn University Marine Extension & Research Center. No Date. Dog River Watershed. Brochure.

 

City of Mobile. Maps and Facts. 2006. Dogwood Productions. 7 March 2006. Available: <http://www.cityofmobile.org/mapsnfacts/facts.php>.

 

City of Mobile. No Date. Solid Waste Pickup Policy and Trash Pickup Policy. Department of Public Works. 10 April 2006. Brochure.

 

Dog River Clearwater Revival. March 2006. Dog River Clearwater Revival: March 2006 Newsletter. Dog River Clearwater Revival.

 

Environmental Protection Agency. A Guide to Waste Reduction at Shopping Centers. Environmental Protection Agency. 3.

 

Google Map. 2005. Google Local. Google Map Data. 7 March 2006. Available: <http://maps.google.com>.

 

Keep America Beautiful. 2004. Toolbox. Keep America Beautiful. 7 March 2006. Available: <http://www.kab.org/kabtoolbox/toolbox.asp?id=371&rid=372>.

 

Keep Mobile Recycling. 2006. Mobile Government. Dogwood Productions. 7 March 2006. Available: < http://www.cityofmobile.org/recycle/>.

 

Perry, Kevin. 12 February 2002. Heard on the Street. PR Newswire. New York.