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The three most overlooked trash items that harm river ecosystems

Updated: May 26, 2021

We know the types of trash people find at cleanups, and we also know that trash is harmful to the environment and river ecosystems - so we won't beat that into the ground. But here's a tip on three things to look out for next time you're picking up trash on your own or at a cleanup event. They're commonly overlooked because they are so small, but they’re huge culprits in declining river health.

#1 Cigarettes

Cigarettes are SO important to pick up. 2 out of 3 cigarettes smoked every year in the U.S. are dropped on the ground or flicked out of a car window. And sadly, 80% of these cigarettes find a way into our rivers. That blew my mind when I first heard it. This means that even cigarettes miles away from river access will find their way into rivers, most likely through storm drains.

Cigarettes are made up of over 4,000 chemicals, 50+ of which are carcinogens. When a cigarette butt reaches the water, it leaches toxins that are harmful to river wildlife and ecosystems. What's more startling is a cigarette filter can continue to leach toxins for over 10 years.

#2 Plastic Caps

Plastic caps are the second most common piece of litter worldwide. Not only do they degrade the health of rivers, but they are a leading cause of marine life deaths. An accumulation of plastic bottle caps in their stomachs can prevent them from eating a full meal, making them starve to death.

#3 Styrofoam

Although less common than the plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and bags you come across at most cleanups, styrofoam takes a heavy toll on river health. Styrofoam crumbles easily and never completely degrades. It just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. Those pieces cycle through our environment and endlessly leach toxins from carcinogens into the water and soil.

Thanks for keeping an eye out for these and helping us protect our rivers.

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