From Houston Public Media:
About 20 volunteers came together on a recent Saturday morning to clean up trash along the Houston Ship Channel. Armed with pickers and garbage bags, they set out to tackle a small “garbage beach” across the waterway from the refinery. Heaps of discarded items—tires, kid crocodiles, tennis balls, plastic toy kitchens—cover the beach, but you could barely see the sand.
“We’re just surrounded by plastic bottles,” said Amy Ding, an environmental lawyer and one of the volunteers. Beneath the larger items, Styrofoam debris covers the ground, making it look like snow from a distance.
“We’ve seen worse,” Ding said.
The amount of trash that ends up in Houston’s waterways is substantial. In 2021 alone, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP), one of the leading organizations to clean up trash in and along the bayou, removed about 2,000 cubic yards of trash. That’s enough to fill over 160 commercial dump trucks.
In addition to being unsightly, litter can degrade water quality and harm plants and wildlife. They can also harbor bacteria, spread disease, cause blockages, and exacerbate flooding.
“It just keeps coming. When I stopped, a pungent smell drifted.
“I call it Bayou Potpourri,” said Rivers.
Rivers, better known as Bayou Dave, has worked with the BBP garbage disposal team for 13 years. He said he’s seen everything from tools, coolers, water hoses and even kitchen sinks.
“In one area, we pulled over 50 baskets out of the water.
Volunteer groups are a small part of BBP’s activities. Officials like Rivers said he cleans up the trash five days a week, partly funded by the county.
Rivers is captain of the Bayou-Vac, a specially designed barge with a 16-foot vacuum hose that sucks up trash and debris.
According to Robbie Robinson, BBP’s field operations manager, the amount of trash is exacerbated when it rains.
“Two inches of rain can wash down the storm drains and expose horrific debris to your eyes,” says Robinson.
Even the 160 dump trucks’ worth of trash they pick up each year is only a fraction of all the trash that ends up in our oceans.
“We can’t get the bulk of the garbage,” Robinson said. “I wish I could say I did it, but in reality it doesn’t.”
Trash that is not picked up from Houston’s bayou ends up in the ocean, endangering marine life that mistakes it for food.
Robinson said the amount of trash has remained stable over the years, except during Covid periods.
“When everything stopped and people stopped eating out, there was a lot less trash,” he said. “When our system shuts down, so does the trash, so we know the trash is our product.”
Robinson said one solution he hopes to see statewide is bottle deposits, where consumers receive money for returning plastic containers.
“If you give them a value, you won’t be able to find them on the shore and they will be recycled back into the system,” he said.
Research, including a report by Australian researchers and the non-profit Keep America Beautiful, shows that places with bottle deposits produce less trash and have higher recycling rates.
Oregon was the first state to introduce such a system, and its program is considered the most successful. In 2019, the state’s return rate reached 90% of his. This means that 90% of all items eligible for the Deposit Program have been returned for recycling.
Bottle bills have been introduced in Texas several times, but have never passed.In 2021, a report prepared by independent consultants for the Texas Environmental Quality Commission recommends further investigation of the state’s bottle bills. increase.
Beyond legislation, Robinson said it’s also important to make people aware of the problem, and that’s where volunteer groups come in.
“Most people never realize how terrifying this problem is,” Robinson said.
Franciso Tijero is the founder of a volunteer group that helped the BBP clean up the boatway. He calls his group the District I Decontamination Unit.
“I started thinking about how the District 1 decontamination unit sounds post-apocalyptic and really cool,” says Tijero.
Tijero has been cleaning up the trash since the 80’s and says she wants to make it fun so more people can participate. He has ideas on how to get more traction, like cleaning up your costume or using a headlamp at night.
“I want attention, I want positive attention on negative issues,” he said. “I want to have a large crew that finds problem areas and attacks them like grasshoppers. Just get in there and clean up.”
Elliott Milian, a ninth grader who came with his family, said he enjoyed coming back after spending hours cleaning up for the Boy Scouts at first.
“It started off as just a few hours at first, but as we met all these people, it started to get kind of interesting,” he said.
Milian is now trying to reduce her use of plastic, and said seeing the tiny pieces of Styrofoam littering the beach made her think about how difficult it is to clean up once it’s in the environment.
“Styrofoam is crazy,” he said. “No matter what we do, there will always be Styrofoam left.”