EPA Region 7’s Trash-Free Waters program, along with Wichita State University’s Environmental Finance Center and the Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper organization, are working with local community groups on a project to install and maintain three trash traps in St. Louis area streams. A stream trash trap is a mechanical system that includes a floating boom and net that funnel and gather floating debris near embankments, canals, or stormwater outfalls before it can reach primary waterways like streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.
Three different types of trash traps are being installed at the following locations: “Trash Trout” at Deer Creek in Maplewood, Missouri; “B2B Beaver” at Mackenzie Creek in St. Louis; and, “Litter Gitter” at River Des Peres in University City, Missouri. “Stream trash traps, like the ones being deployed in St. Louis, help build awareness of this issue and make the amount and composition of trash more visible, all the while helping to clean up litter in waterways,” said Jeff Robichaud, EPA Region 7’s Water Division director. “St. Louis has the ability to influence change and reduce the impacts caused by trash in urban streams and rivers that feed into the Gulf of Mexico.”
St. Louis serves as an ideal location to launch the pilot project to study trash and litter, as it sits on the confluence of the two most prominent American rivers, the Mississippi and Missouri. Their watersheds combined form the largest single watershed in the United States and flow south to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. “The debris and trash that enters these two watersheds often makes its way through storm sewers and remains hidden until storms and rain empty the debris from storm sewers into small streams and larger rivers,” Robichaud said. “This is a positive step in helping to keep River Des Peres – and the Mississippi River it flows into – cleaner for both the animals that live there and the humans who rely on it,” said Diane Bauhof, executive director of the St. Louis Aquarium Foundation.
EPA Region 7 awarded a $35,000 grant to the Wichita State University Environmental Finance Center (WSU EFC) to capture and study the types, quantities, and sources of trash at the three trap locations. The data collected by the EFC will provide a foundation for learning the characteristics of trash entering St. Louis streams to recommend further litter reduction actions that can be replicated in other parts of the city, state, and throughout communities in Region 7.
“Our hope for this project is that our analysis will inform the community, including businesses and government leaders, about how trash is impacting St. Louis waterways,” said Tonya Bronleewe, director of the WSU EFC. “The quantitative data we collect will serve as a tool to help us identify opportunities to reduce trash and protect the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.”
The project will show the connection all inland citizens have to local litter and to the ocean and larger marine debris issues. Trash, packaging, and waste improperly disposed on land is washing into creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes, and finally, to the ocean. This waste is estimated to account for 80% of marine debris in oceans. The remaining 20% is from at-sea losses of ocean-going vessels, lost or abandoned fishing gear, and accidental or intentional dumping.
Volunteers from Blue2Blue Conservation will clean the trash traps monthly and the debris will be sorted and catalogued before being recycled and repurposed. This collaborative effort will bring several community stakeholders together to tackle the issue of trash on land and in water and to work together to find solutions that will prevent trash from reaching local lakes, streams and rivers. “Community-driven projects like this empower communities and stakeholders to take charge and create sustainable solutions,” said DeAndre Singletary, director of EPA Region 7’s Land, Chemical and Redevelopment Division.
“Beyond the many amazing community volunteers, this is one more tool to both keep our watersheds healthy and educate people about where trash ultimately ends up, so behaviors change,” said Tom Schweiss, conservation program manager, Great Rivers Greenway.
Trash directly impacts communities in many ways as it creates financial burdens for cleanups and maintenance, lowers property values, and negatively impacts tourism and community pride. The EPA Trash-Free Waters program provides financial and technical support to partners to implement projects that address trash and its impacts on both coastal and inland waters in the U.S. “The Trash-Free St. Louis Project is an excellent example of what we can accomplish for our region,” said Christine Ingrassia, alderwoman for St. Louis’ 6th Ward. “And I’m looking forward to monitoring the results and, hopefully, expanding trash traps into other waterways in the near future.”