THE ACCUMULATION OF LITTER IN THE DOG RIVER WATERSHED

 

 

Kristie L. Thomas, Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36688. E-mail: kristiet@gmail.com.

            Litter is a major factor of water quality degradation in the Dog River watershed of Mobile County, Alabama.  Although there are city and county offices designated to clean up litter, they only operate in public places.  It is also impossible for the workers to pick up everything due to safety and logistic issues.  In this paper, I address the issue of whether or not the presence of litter in an area leads to an increase in the accumulation of litter in that area.  I chose two locations on Schillinger Road as my study area, cleaning one site and leaving, but cataloguing, the litter in the second.  After two weeks, I counted the difference in the accumulation of litter, and found that there was a higher accumulation rate for litter in the cleaned area than that of the control, dirty location.

            Keywords: litter, litter accumulation, Dog River watershed

 

 

Introduction:

 

Litter is a major problem in the Dog River watershed of Mobile County, Alabama.  Litter degrades water quality by obstructing sunlight from bottom dwelling plants and animals, as well as “destroying the waters’ delicate chemical balance,” (Pounds, 2003).  Litter is washed from gutters and parking lots into streams and rivers by storm events.  A report by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (1995) finds that litter is the number one source of pollution in Eslava Creek, Bolton Branch, and the headwaters of the Dog River.  The accumulation of litter in these areas of the Dog River watershed negatively affects the water quality that goes into Mobile Bay.  The proper disposal of litter in these areas of the watershed would accomplish an improvement in the water quality of the watershed as a whole (ADEM, 1995).  Robert Brosher from the mowing division of the Mobile City Litter Patrol said that although litter is picked up in this area of the city, it is only picked up in public areas of major thoroughfares, medians, and service roads (2006). 

According to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (1994; 1995), the biggest issues associated with water quality degradation in the Dog River tributaries Milkhouse Creek and Second Creek are turbidity and siltation due to the high development activity.  However, Debra Middlebrooks from the Mobile County Litter Patrol says that Schillinger Road is one of the worst areas in Mobile County for litter (2006).  This means litter poses a significant problem for the Dog River watershed, and as you can see from Figure 1, Milkhouse Creek and Second Creek drain Schillinger Road.  She also pointed out that currently only fifteen people are employed at the county litter patrol office, making them grossly understaffed for the important job of keeping Mobile County clean.

 

Research Question:

            Are people more likely to litter if there is already litter present? If the litter is removed from an area, will it accumulate as fast?  The answers to these questions are important for water quality, and have been asked in other experiments.  A study by Finnie (1973) found that litter leads to more litter, whereas Crump, Nunes, and Crossman (1977) found that the presence of litter discourages people from littering.  The red dots on Figure 1 show the two areas studied in this paper.

 

Methods:

 

On March 11, I volunteered to clean up litter for the county litter patrol.  I chose this day because they only clean up major thoroughfares when they have more labor, which is usually on weekends.  Since we cleaned up some areas of Schillinger road, I used one of these locations as my study area (Figure 2).  I also chose another section of Schillinger road that I left dirty as my control area (Figure 3).  Figure 2 and Figure 3 show what the locations looked like on March 11.  I picked the location of the control area because it was the closest dirty public area to the study area.  It was necessary that the study area and control area be on the same road in an attempt to ensure that the same populace travel by each (see Fig. 1).  I catalogued the amount of litter in the control area to find out how fast litter accumulates if there is already litter in an area.  On March 18th, I returned to the two sites and took pictures of the accumulation of litter.  On March 25th, exactly two weeks after the first cataloguing of the control site, I catalogued the litter from each site. 

While cleaning up Schillinger road with the county litter patrol, I became aware of some problems with picking up litter.  For safety reasons, we did not remove anything that was in a ditch, the road, the woods, or high grass.  We also did not pick up anything that was too small to remove with the poles given to us.  Due to the fact that such small pieces of trash remain after an area is cleaned, and are likely not visible from the road, I did not count them in my study.  However, since litter caught in the trees and tall grass are visible from the road, they were counted in this study.

 

Results:

 

            There were 56 total pieces of litter in the control area on March 11th and 112 pieces of litter on March 25th.  By subtracting the amount of litter found on March 11th from the amount of litter found on March 25th, I calculated a difference of 56 accumulated pieces.  This means the amount of litter doubled in two weeks.  On March 18th, there was a bag of trash near the Veteran’s Memorial Highway sign which was not present on March 25th (see Fig. 2).  There were 67 pieces of litter in the study area on March 25th, which appears to be less trash than the week before.  Based on the amounts catalogued on March 11th and 25th, 11 more pieces accumulated in the study area than the control area.  This means there is a slightly higher accumulation rate of litter in the clean area than the dirty area (Figure 4).

On both days, the majority of trash found in the control area was plastic and paper, with more plastic than paper on March 25th.  The majority of trash found in the study area was paper, followed by plastic.  The entire catalog of the types and amount of litter found in both the control and study areas is available in Table 1.

Table 1. Below is a table listing the types and amounts of litter found

in the study area and the control area on March 11th and March 25th..

 

Study Area

Control Area

 

March 11th

March 25th

March 11th

March 25th

Paper

0

31

20

40

Plastic

0

26

20

47

Glass

0

2

5

6

Styrofoam

0

5

1

10

Metal

0

0

3

3

Fabric

0

2

4

5

Tire

0

0

1

1

Shingle

0

0

2

0

Pipe

0

1

0

0

Total

0

67

56

112

 

 

Discussion and Conclusion:

 

Although the largest problems associated with Milkhouse Creek and Second Creek are not litter, it is still a major problem.  The results from this study suggest that people are more likely to litter in clean areas than dirty areas.  One possible explanation for these findings is that people feel bad about littering in an area that is highly littered, but not in an area that is clean.  This conclusion, though unexpected, has been reached before.  In a study by Crump, Nunes, and Crossman (1977), it was found that people are more likely to clean up an area that is covered in litter than they are to continue to litter in that area.  However, that study was performed in a forest environment, as opposed to a major thoroughfare.  The studies that took place in surroundings more similar to the conditions in my study found that people are more likely to litter if there is already litter present (Finnie, 1973; Wikipedia, 2006). 

This difference highlights that there were some problems with this experiment, and the results may be skewed because of it.  One such potential problem is that the control and study areas may not have been close enough to ensure that the same residents drove past each.  If this is the case, then another study may be necessary on a thoroughfare with no major turnoffs between each location.  Another probable issue is that the control area was across the street from a residential neighborhood, whereas the study area was in close proximity to the Flea Market.  This also suggests that the same populace did not drive by each area.  An additional potential flaw of this study is that some trash was removed from the study area.  On March 18th, I noticed a bag of trash that was dumped next to the Veteran’s Highway Sign.  This bag was not there on March 25th, and had it remained, the results of this study might have been different.

If I were to repeat this study, I would conduct it on Cottage Hill Road between Schillinger Road and Hillcrest Road.  This would decrease the distance between the study and control areas as well as decrease the amount of major turnoffs between the two areas.  This would also make it easier to ensure that the clean and dirty areas would both be in a similar setting, whether residential or commercial.  Another change I would make to future studies would be to visit and catalog the sites daily to further decrease the amount of error.

            In conclusion, there was a higher rate of litter accumulation in the study area than in the control area, though the reasoning for this is unclear.  It is possible that people litter more in clean areas due to the lack of guilt associated with a mostly clean area, where as they may feel guilty littering an area that is already dirty.  It is also possible that people simply litter more in a shopping setting than in a residential area.  This study was important for the Dog River watershed because it highlights the need for further research into understanding why people litter where they do.

 

References Cited:

 

Alabama Department of Environmental Management, 1994. A Survey of the Dog River Watershed: An Overview of Land Use Practices and an Assessment of the Effects of Development on the Natural Resources of the Basin. Alabama Department of Environmental Management Coastal Program Office, Mobile, Alabama.

 

Alabama Department of Environmental Management, 1995. A Survey of the Dog River Watershed: Second Year’s Findings. Alabama Department of Environmental Management Coastal Program Office, Mobile, Alabama.

 

Brosher, R.,2006. Personal Interview. Mowing Division of the Litter Patrol for the City. February 22, 2006.

 

Crump, S. L., Nunes, D. L., & Crossman, E. K., 1977. The Effects of Litter on Littering Behavior in a Forest Environment. Environment and Behavior, 9(1):137-146.

 

Finnie, W., 1973.  Field Experiments in Litter Control. Environment and Behavior, 5(2): 123-144.

 

Middlebrooks, D., 2006. Personal Interview. Solid Waste Abatement Coordinator for the Mobile County Litter Patrol. March 8, 2006.

 

Pounds, T., 2003, “Does ‘Only Trash Litter’?”. Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama

http://www.usouthal.edu/geography/fearn/480page/03Pounds/03Pounds.htm Web Accessed on: February 22, 2006

 

Wikipedia, 2006. “Litter”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Litter Web Accessed on: February 22, 2006.