Quantcast
Popular
American Rivers named the Connecticut River Conservancy a 2017 Cleanup Champion. Connecticut River Conservancy

5 Most Common Things Found at River Cleanups

By Chelsea Alley

There is a wide variety of trash found at river cleanups—from shopping carts to sofas, bottles to baby dolls. National River Cleanup volunteers work to make these waterways trash-free—removing unique and common items alike. In no particular order, below are the five most common trash items found at river cleanups:


1. Cigarette Butts

Cigarette butts weigh one gram or less, but they account for 30 percent of all litter in the U.S. They are the single worst offender in spite of their small size (food packaging makes up a larger percentage of litter but includes more than just one item, like straws, takeout containers, snack wrappers, etc.). This means that more than one trillion cigarettes are discarded each year, weighing over two billion pounds … or the equivalent of 42 Titanics stacked together!

2. Plastic Bottles and Bottle Caps

More than 22 billion plastic water bottles are thrown away yearly, meaning only about one in every six water bottles purchased in the U.S. ends up being recycled. An average water bottle weighs about 12.7 grams, so the amount of water bottles wasted each year weighs over half a billion pounds. That's almost as heavy as the Empire State Building! Plastic bottles and bottle caps aren't biodegradable, but they do photodegrade. That means that this plastic breaks down into small parts in the sun, and releases chemicals into the environment as they disintegrate. The worst part? They continue breaking down for 500 to 1,000 years!

3. Food Packaging

Food packaging is the largest category of waste on this list, as it includes household packaging (i.e. milk jugs, juice boxes and snack packaging) as well as fast food packaging (i.e. paper, Styrofoam, paperboard wrappings, coffee cups and drink cups). Almost half of the litter in the U.S. is food packaging. While some of these items could be recycled, most are not, and often these are found weighing down shorelines and waterways. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that fast food chains and consumer brand manufacturers relying on single-use packaging waste over $11 billion a year, enough to fund ¼ of the U.S. Energy and Environment budget.

4. Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are so common in the U.S. that over 100 billion bags are used each year. Over three times more bags end up as litter in our forests and waterways than are recycled annually. Plastic bags only weigh about eight grams each, but enough are littered annually to weigh as much as 176 adult blue whales! Plastic bags take almost as long to degrade as plastic bottles, leach chemicals into the environment, and inhibit natural water flows.

5. Aluminum Cans

Almost 100 billion aluminum cans are used in the U.S. annually, and only about half of these cans are recycled. The rest go to landfills or into the environment. Beverage containers account for 50 percent of roadside litter (though this statistic includes plastic containers), and much of that is washed into our waterways. Every aluminum can weighs about 14.9 grams, which means that even if only 1 percent of the aluminum cans used each year were littered, there would be enough waste to equal the weight of 2,500 African bush elephants, and enough cans to circle the equator almost two and a half times.

Bonus: What Will Stay in Your River the Longest? Microplastics

Microplastics can come from larger plastic items when they break down, or in the form of products like microbeads. Most microplastics float into the ocean, but a lot will sink to the bottoms of riverbeds and mix in with the sediment there. This effects oxygen levels in the water as well as harms animals that depend on these ecosystems for their livelihoods. Because plastic takes so long to break down, microplastics are so small, and these items are located along the bottom of rivers, they can stay in the rivers for potentially up to 1,000 years.

These numbers are certainly overwhelming, but they don't need to stay that way! There are many things you can do on your own or with your community to reduce the amount of waste in rivers:

  • Learn more about recycling with our National River Cleanup recycling guide.

Chelsea Alley is the January 2018 National River Cleanup intern at American Rivers.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored

One Million Trees Pledged to 'Trump Forest' to Offset President's Anti-Climate Agenda

Trump Forest—a global reforestation project aiming to offset President Trump's anti-climate policies—has reached 1 million trees after thousands of pledges from around the world.

Trump Forest was launched just under a year ago after POTUS announced he was pulling the U.S. from the Paris agreement.

Keep reading... Show less
The San Francisco Projection Department on Market Street with the #ExxonKnew campaign. Peg Hunter / Flickr

Time’s Up for California AG Becerra to Investigate #ExxonKnew and Prove He’s a Real Climate Leader

By May Boeve

With Trump and fossil fuel executives in the White House, any shot of powerful and lasting protections for our climate and communities will come from our cities and states. That's why it's so troubling that in California, one of the most progressive places in the U.S., current state Attorney General Xavier Becerra is failing to stand up to ExxonMobil and its ilk.

Keep reading... Show less
United Nations Development Programme

Climate Change, Conflict Leave 224 Million Undernourished in Africa

An official with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that climate change and conflict are leading to food insecurity for millions of people living in Africa.

"Undernourishment appears to have risen from about 21 percent to nearly 23 percent between 2015 and 2016," Bukar Tijani, FAO's assistant director general for Africa, said Monday at a conference in Sudan.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
iStock

A Stargazer’s Guide to Protected Dark Skies

By Sabine Bergmann

For millennia, human beings have gazed into the firmament and been awed by the thousands of stars, galaxies, nebulae and other cosmic wonders visible to the naked eye. But in recent generations, much of humanity has become divorced from these marvels. Today, at least 80 percent of people living in the United States and Europe are so inundated with light pollution that they can't even see our own Milky Way, let alone our neighboring galaxies like Andromeda.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Shutterstock

Contaminated Cosmetics Pose Growing Risk to Consumers

By Scott Faber

A rash of product recalls, government warning notices and contaminated cosmetics may finally push Congress to give our broken cosmetics law a makeover.

This month, a key Senate committee announced a bipartisan plan to consider cosmetics reform legislation this spring and work for its passage by the full Senate this year.

Keep reading... Show less

America’s Cities Are the Vanguard for a Sustainable Future

By Henry Henderson

In the absence of federal leadership on climate change, America's cities have become the vanguard of the country's efforts to create a sustainable future. Recently, 233 mayors from 46 states and territories, representing 51 million residents across the country, have signed an open letter opposing the repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the nation's most comprehensive strategy to combat climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular

Giant Sloth Fossils, Mayan Relics Discovered in World's Largest Flooded Cave

Archaeologists exploring the world's largest flooded cave—discovered last month just outside of Tulum, Mexico—have found an impressive treasure trove of relics.

The vast, 216-mile cave actually connects two of the largest flooded cave systems in the world, the 164-mile-long Sistema Sac Actun and the 52-mile-long Dos Ojos system. Aside from an extensive reserve of freshwater and rich biodiversity, the cave also contains an 11-mile-long, 66-food-deep cavern dubbed "the mother of all cenotes." Cenotes are natural pits, or underwater sinkholes, that are often holy sites in ancient Mayan culture.

Keep reading... Show less
A comet may have brought the mammoths to extinction. Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta / Dave Smith / Flickr

The Day a Comet Set the Earth on Fire: Scientists Find Evidence in Ancient Ice Cores

By Tim Radford

Think of it as the day a comet set the earth on fire. Researchers have evidence of widespread and devastating forest fires around half the world—a blaze to blot out the light of the sun—and all of it at a geological boundary called the Younger Dryas, 13,500 years ago.

The evidence, they say, supports the hypothesis that planet Earth sailed through a cloud of shattered cometary dust and stones, and the atmospheric violence that followed was enough to set light to accumulated forest timber, peat and grasses across the Americas, Europe and western Asia.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!