Monday, September 15

What Our Trash Says About Us: Queen Lane Stormwater Bumpouts

Budweiser Can in the Soil

Queen Lane Bumpouts in East Falls

New York Ironweed, Joe Pye Weed and Goldenrod

This past week I started a new job monitoring stormwater 
structures in East Falls and collecting trash and photographs 
for the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD). Queen 
Lane has six bumpouts along the edge of the Queen Lane 
Reservoir. They vary in length and plantings and were installed 
in 2011, when they were a first for Philadelphia. They continue to 
inform how new bumpouts are designed and planted and 
provide lessons in how people feel about the structures and 
what helps them succeed.

Wrapper in the Planting Bed

Pulling trash out of the structures, I'm surprised first by how
little trash there is.  Most of the beds are full of plants that
are flowering and oak trees with acorns and the bases of some
are covered in grasses.  The trash I do find I collect in a bag
to determine the volume of trash.  I met with a neighbor today
who said when they were recently planted, they were full of trash.
But now as the plants have grown in and they flourish, less trash
gets tossed into them.


The trash I do find, though, is telling.  Alcohol cans, a Budweiser
and a Yuengling can tossed in on the sidewalk side and a
bottle of Crown Royal tucked under some grasses, remind
me how close we are to local Universities, just down the block. 
Cigarette butts and wrappers, Virginia Slims, Newports 
and Marlboros, some fresh and clustered in one bed and 
others old and tangled in piles of leaf debris near drains, 
remind me how smokers forget butts are trash and one 
becomes many when you add everyone else's cigarette trash.

Bag of Iceberg Lettuce

Wrappers from candy are also common.  Dum Dums, 
Peanut Chews, Big Slice Pops, Extreme Airheads,
chocolate covered pretzels, Tastycake, Freezer Pops, 
I'm guessing some kids walk this route on
their way to and from school.

Dunkin Donuts Coffee Cup, Cream and Sugar

Fast food trash is also common, even though fast food
restaurants are not close by.  A Wendy's french fries cup
would have to travel almost a mile to a mile and a half
depending on which Wendy's they came from.  

A McDonald receipt had to come from at least a
mile away.  The Dunkin Donuts cup could have come
from one of many gas station Dunkins across the
area. And the Wawa orange juice mush have traveled
at least 4.5 miles away and probably traveled further.

You can see some of the trash makes its way
into the beds via wind (plastic bag) or water
(cigarette butts) or wandering trash on trash day
(how the lettuce made it over there, I don't know),
but much of the trash is that Philly tradition of
drop it and it disappears.  It's like it never existed,
that's where trash goes, right? It just goes down the
drain, no need to worry about it.  It's so small
it doesn't matter. When I was little I threw wrappers
on the ground and my friends and I were
creeped out by the neighbor who picked up
trash. Ewww, he touched it! Trash is dirty.

It wasn't until I started working for environmental
organizations that I really started noticing
all the trash in nature and taking responsibility
for it.  When we hike,  we pick it up and take it
out.  When I taught nutrition, I never had to 
buy sample drink containers, I just needed
to walk by a school and I could collect plenty
of sodas, fake juices, sugar teas and chip bags.

They didn't disappear.  They're right there. 
In a pile,by the gutter, in the trolley tracks.  
They might wash into the drain,
but then they end up in the creek and river.
I see them when I walk near the banks by 
Boat House Row or Bartram's Garden.
The ducks are swimming in the trash and
it's backing up the waterways and outflows.

I'm glad the trash in the bumpouts is minimal and that
the nicer they look, the less trash they get in them.
I hope the amount of trash can get even smaller
and it starts with educating people who walk by.