Plastic waste plagues cities, often ending up in waterways. An average 8.8 million tons of plastic waste enters our oceans from waterways around the world every year. The problem may span the globe, but solutions can start locally, right in your local park.
NRPA has partnered with The Coca-Cola Company, the city of Atlanta, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Groundwork Atlanta, Park Pride and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 to tackle the problem in Atlanta’s Proctor Creek watershed. While the city has been working with the community for many years to address issues around litter and illegal dumping, storms continue to wash significant amounts of trash into Proctor Creek. Together, the organizations are installing trash-catchment systems in the watershed to test a localized solution to the problem.
Community Faces Environmental, Health and Economic Challenges
The Proctor Creek watershed flows through several Northwest Atlanta neighborhoods. The area is home to approximately 60,000 people, has served as an incubator for African American civil rights leaders and houses several historically black universities and colleges. But decades of disinvestment and discriminating policies, such as redlining, have created environmental, health and economic challenges for residents.
Through the project, two technologies — the Litter Gitter and the Bandalong Litter Trap — are being installed and tested at four different park sites throughout the watershed. Community members also will receive green jobs training and learn about recycling. Some will learn how to maintain the traps, as well as how to use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol (ETAP) system to collect data on the trash captured in the traps.
The Litter Gitter, a small-stream litter collection device, uses floating booms that guide trash into a collection container. The Bandalong Litter Trap is a large, industrial-grade aluminum system that uses the water’s current to guide debris into a litter trap. The Coca-Cola Company provided a grant to NRPA to support the city of Atlanta’s installation of these devices. Currently, five Litter Gitters are installed at three different park locations in the Proctor Creek watershed, including Grove Park, Center Hill Park and Proctor Creek Greenway – Boyd Elementary. The Bandalong will be installed in early 2020 at the site of the future Proctor Creek Park. Data collected on the types and amounts of trash captured will be used to inform best practices about mitigation strategies, so communities can determine if these solutions would be valuable in their waterways.
Local Project Contributes to the Bigger Picture
The project supports The Coca-Cola Company’s global World Without Waste goal to recycle and reuse the equivalent of 100 percent of the bottles and cans it sells by 2030. Coca-Cola plans on working with the Proctor Creek partners to recycle and reuse the bottles collected through the new trash-catchment systems.
This project demonstrates the ability of public-private, philanthropic partnerships to help provide clean, trash-free water while providing local green jobs and educational opportunities.
Michele White is Program Manager, Conservation at NRPA.