No One Wants Trashy Water: Pollution Prevention

September 21, 2020

What is the Problem? 

Litter in our communities is detrimental local wildlife as it pollutes streams. Litter can be any piece of trash that is not put into the correct receptacle and is instead left in an open area. Plastic bottles, face masks and gloves, soda cans, paper, and pet waste all count as litter when thrown on the ground instead of the trash or recycling bin.

Litter accumulates in parks, roads, and sidewalks, making them less safe and appear less appealing. Loose trash then runs-off into nearby storm drains, either obstructing them or passing through and going straight into streams. Litter items can make native plants, birds, fish, and animals sick by releasing toxins into the water and changing the chemical composition of the surrounding ecosystem. They can also pose a choking risk as wildlife may mistake this trash for food.

One Simple Way to Prevent Litter

A great way to prevent water pollution caused by litter is to dispose of waste items immediately in secure trash or recycling bins. When putting trash and recycling out for collection, ensure that trash bags are tied tightly closed within bins. This way, if a bin tips over due to weather conditions or nosy animals, trash items will not spill over the lawn and roadway. If you live in an apartment building or condominium, please make sure to place the trash in the appropriate containers.  Notice that containers are overflowing? Let your property manager know.

Plastic Bags

A common litter item found in county streams is plastic bags. In an effort to reduce carryout bag waste, Montgomery County passed a bag law in 2011 requiring retailers to charge 5 cents per plastic or paper bag provided to customers at the point of sale. The revenue made from this regulation goes into the county’s Water Quality Protection Charge fund. This bag law was passed to encourage consumers to bring their own reusable bags when shopping. Not only does bringing a reusable bag reduce the amount of waste that could end up in our streams, but it also saves residents money; an environmental and economic win!

More information about Montgomery County’s Carryout Bag Law.

What Can You Do? 

Another way to actively prevent water pollution is to organize and/or participate in county or regional roadside and streamside litter clean-up events (once it is safe to do so given the COVID-19 pandemic). Sign up to receive information from Montgomery County DEP and local watershed groups on how else to help. Some county programs to participate in include the Adopt a Road program, which ensures roads are regularly cleaned-up, and the Storm Drain Marking and Storm Drain Art programs, which serve to remind people that litter flows directly to their streams.

More information about volunteer opportunities with Montgomery County and local nonprofit watershed organizations in Montgomery County, MD.

We all play a crucial role in keeping our local waterways clean and litter-free. Remember to dispose of waste properly in secure receptacles and to bring reusable bags when going to the grocery store or mall because pollution prevention starts with the people!

Guest blog by: Emma Frank, Summer 2020 DEP Watershed Restoration intern.

Potomac River by Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center in Montgomery County, MD.

6 comments on "No One Wants Trashy Water: Pollution Prevention"

  1. Thanks so much for this Blog Post! While I have noticed a reduction in plastic bag litter in Sligo Creek since the bag fee was implemented, we are now seeing face masks! Friends of Sligo Creek and other watershed groups can use help to address litter. We will be encouraging individual clean ups along Sligo Creek from Sept 26 to October 11. Looking forward to getting to the source of the problem too.

    1. Ana Arriaza says:

      Ed, thanks for the input! Yes, unfortunately, we have noticed the gloves and face masks as well. Please add your events to the calendar so that people can see them. As always, thank you for all the work you do to protect our local waters!

  2. Anne Ambler says:

    And don’t forget the gloves, too, Ed. People seem to think that single use means just dump the mask and gloves when you get back into the car. After the big storm on 9/10, however, the Northwest Branch at our water monitoring site was festooned with plastic bags. The site is in Prince George’s County, so the bags could have originated there, or could have washed down from MoCo. I think more people are using disposable bags now, despite the fee, on account of the virus.

    1. Ana Arriaza says:

      Anne, thanks for the comment and sharing your observations. It is helpful to hear what people are finding out there. As always, thank you for all the work you do to protect our local waters!

  3. Amanda Laudwein says:

    Can disposable facemasks be recycled?

    1. Ana Arriaza says:

      Amanda, thank you for your question. Disposable face masks are not recyclable. Please put the facemasks in the trash. Thank you!

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