More than half a ton of litter was removed Saturday from Swan Creek by volunteers with Tennessee Riverkeeper.
The nonprofit organization has a mission to protect the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers and its tributaries, including Swan Creek. They removed the aquatic trash starting at the Swan Creek Wildlife Management Area on the banks of the Tennessee River.
Volunteers, who came from Ardmore, Decatur, Elkmont and Toney, said most of the litter found was glass beer bottles, fishing items and single-use plastics. The largest items removed were six tires and two carpets.
Twelve volunteers, who wore protective gear and practiced social distancing, filled 71 trash bags with illegally discarded garbage. The total weight was about 1,137 pounds.
“Resolving litter pollution problems requires many different tactics,” said David Whiteside, founder of Tennessee Riverkeeper. “Riverkeeper utilizes long term solutions such as litter traps and educating the public, in addition to frequent cleanups.”
Whiteside said the organization cleaned up the same site in January.
“There was slightly less trash at this location than found 6 months ago,” he said.
In 2019, Tennessee Riverkeeper launched a microplastics campaign to remove plastics and other litter from waterways while educating the public about the pollution threat.
“Scientists have found that the Tennessee River is polluted by as many as 16,000 to 18,000 microplastic particles per cubic meter,” Whiteside said. “This pollution occurs when larger plastics break down over time. Experts think that they can last for hundreds of years, and toxicity can ‘biomagnify’ as microplastics build up in the food chain.”
Whiteside said there is no easy solution to the problem.
“We do know that preventing plastics from entering waterways is an obvious solution, and it is easier to remove garbage from the shorelines and shallow water of creeks and rivers,” he said. “It is very difficult and inefficient to try to remove litter from deeper water. Another important solution is education and informing citizens that littering not only makes our community look trashy, it also impairs fishing and water quality.”
Whiteside said the Tennessee River and its tributaries are often collection zones for litter. Litter thrown out on the streets will frequently flow into creeks and rivers through drainage systems after rain events, he said.
Whiteside said it creates a situation where waterways receive a plethora of plastics and the garbage negatively impacts water quality. Luckily, cleanup events like the one held Saturday show all it takes is a few people to make a difference, he said.
"Cleanups provide some hope for hundreds of thousands of citizens who are concerned about our blessed river and its tributaries,” Whiteside said. “Clean water is a nonpartisan issue; we are all in this together.”