Midstate community members encouraged to clean up plastics to help the Susquehanna River

Environment

PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — Sometimes the efforts of people working to care for the environment are in fact thwarted by nature.

The Second Annual Great Plastic Purge of the Lower Susquehanna that was scheduled for Saturday will likely be canceled because rain has made conditions on the Susquehanna River risky for boaters, but Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Ted Evgeniadis hopes people will still go out and clean up plastic waste anyway.

During the first Great Plastic Purge last year, volunteers walked along the banks of the Susquehanna River and took boats out to the islands in the middle of the river to collect plastic waste and dispose of it properly. At that event, more than 120 volunteers collected 5.5 tons of trash over the course of two weekends.

Evgeniadis hoped this second event could have a similar impact with local organizations managing plastic pickup stations at four different places around Lake Clarke on the Susquehanna, but although it looks like the event will be canceled, Evgeniadis encourages people to get out and pick up plastic anyway.

“There’s something that you can do on your own, and that’s going out on your own, maybe visiting a local creek that’s near your house and going around the banks and cleaning up trash around a local creek, around the neighborhood, if there’s any spots around the river that you can access on land…I’d ask anybody to go out [and] fill up a bag,” Evgeniadis said.

Plastic waste can end up in waterways like the Susquehanna through negligence or by mistake — for example, a recycling bin on the curb might blow over in the wind — and even if heavy rains and a high river wash one piece of trash away, another will come along to take its place, Evgeniadis said.

The efforts of plastic cleanup volunteers are not wasted, though. Evgeniadis said that when he went to scout the islands in the river ahead of the planned second Great Plastic Purge, they sported significantly less waste than they had last year.

“Everything that we picked in the interior of the islands, the interior of the islands looked pretty clean,” Evgeniadis said. “I think last year we removed stuff that’s probably been there since Tropical Storm Lee back in 2011.”

Although the group last year made some still-visible progress, getting plastics out of the environment is an ongoing process. “There was a lot of trash and plastics littered around the banks and then, you know, maybe 10/15 feet to where that high-water mark was over the last year on those islands,” Evgeniadis added.

That is where Evgeniadis is looking for the community’s help. He offers the following tips for anyone who is interested in going out to pick up trash from the environment this weekend or any time:

  • Pay attention to river flow if you are planning to take a boat out on the water. If you are worried that river conditions might be dangerous, picking along the banks of waterways is safer and still helps keep plastic waste out of waterways.
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the weather, wear gloves, and make sure you have proper footwear on, too.
  • Thicker contractor garbage bags are least likely to rip when you are picking, especially if you find heavier items.
  • If you find a container with liquid in it, do not open it and do not dump it. The bottles could contain oil, solvents, or other chemicals that could harm the environment.
  • Beware of sharp objects. If you come across something sharp like a hypodermic needle, you can put it inside a plastic bottle and cap the bottle before disposal.
  • If you find a medication container that still contains medication, there are places such as pharmacies where you can take it for proper disposal.
  • Have fun! You can go picking with a group and turn the excursion into a competition. You can see what kinds of unexpected objects you can find. Or you can enjoy some quiet time in nature while helping care for the environment.

Getting community members to participate in these efforts and paying attention to the waste that ends up in the environment can have a meaningful impact, Evgeniadis said.

“A lot of times it’s out of sight, out of mind. If people don’t see this stuff, nobody knows about it, but it’s amazing when you get a group of people out to a cleanup, maybe for the first time ever, and then their mind is blown,” Evgeniadis said. “All of a sudden it creates awareness, and that awareness spreads.”

People might go home and tell their families about the strange items they found — items that can include lighters, whole tires, oil barrels, needles, shoes, Nerf bullets, and of course, innumerable plastic bottles. This hopefully creates more awareness about the issues of waste and pollution, Evgeniadis said.

These images show some waste items that have been spotted and collected from in and around the Susquehanna River in York and Lancaster Counties:

While removing waste from in and along waterways is one way to get it out of the environment, Evgeniadis said people can also make conscious choices to limit their plastic consumption in the first place. Drinking from reusable water bottles or shopping at local stores that use less plastic packaging are two methods Evgeniadis suggests for reducing plastic use.

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Evgeniadis is hoping to reschedule the Second Annual Great Plastic Purge of the Lower Susquehanna for another weekend this year, but he was not sure if he would be able to find another weekend that would work when he spoke to abc27 on Wednesday, Oct. 27.

The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association holds other plastic cleanup events throughout the year, though. More information about upcoming events and other Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association initiatives can be found online here.

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