Volunteers clean up litter in Oregon City's Clackamette Park
Clackamas Water Environment Services and nonprofit partner SOLVE hosted a volunteer litter cleanup event at Clackamette Park in Oregon City on Thursday, Sept. 30, as part of their 2021 Summer Waterway Cleanups series.
WES — specializing in wastewater treatment, stormwater management and environmental education — has hosted similar cleanup events over the past four years in partnership with SOLVE, founded in 1969 to restore and preserve Oregon's natural environment through volunteer work.
Over the course of more than 50 cleanup events in 2020, a total of 1,028 volunteers collectively removed over 10,000 pounds of trash, including 6,000 cigarette butts and other debris. Totals for 2021 will be announced in early October.
"This particular series is focused on the waterways, because litter accumulation into our creeks, rivers and streams eventually ends up into the Pacific Ocean. It's harmful to wildlife, it's harmful to human health," said Taylor Neitzke, program director at SOLVE. "It's really focused on improving the environment and also building a legacy of stewardship so people feel responsible for this shared space that we have."
"We want to get rid of the trash that typically will get washed into or blown into the streets and rivers, and we know that's a problem both because it's a hazard for fish and wildlife, as well as detrimental to water quality," said Gail Shaloum, natural resources scientist at WES.
"We also use it as an opportunity to help people to understand the connection between trash and the things they do in their daily lives," Shaloum said. "Nowadays it seems like people really are concerned about the environment, and I think having something that they can do to help and make a difference is important."
Neitzke said the most common item of waste found during cleanup events are cigarette butts, which fish often mistake as food and end up ingesting harmful toxins.
"We also eat fish, and those toxins go up the food chain, so we eventually end up eating those toxins as well," Neitzke said.
Shaloum listed bottle caps, Styrofoam and plastic lids as other commonly littered items.
"We find a lot of plastic and then when that gets in the water and it starts to break down, you get what we call microplastics — they just get broken down into smaller and smaller pieces and fish and other animals ingest it and it's very bad for their health and then there are other chemicals that come off of it as it breaks down in water," Shaloum said.
In past cleanup events, volunteers have found outlandish items of trash ranging from large furniture to automobile parts.
"We do sometimes find car parts, like tires," Shaloum said. "It is kind of amazing how many tires are found on open streams."
The events SOLVE hosts throughout the year are not limited to litter cleanups, but also include invasive species removal, native planting events and environment maintenance projects, Neitzke said.
"Ultimately, it's everyone's responsibility to take care of the environment, and we're all feeling maybe a little bit of a sense of hopelessness right now, but this is a very tangible thing that you can do to improve our world," Neitzke added.
"It's not just that you beautified the space, it's a chain of events," Neitzke continued. "The wildlife is now improved, human health is improved, there's so many different results."
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