Usually when she’s on the trail, Hope Braithwaite watches for wildlife or absorbs the scenery. But last week her first priority was closer to ground level—she tracked trash and convinced a bevvy of volunteers to follow her lead.
Braithwaite organized the Utah State University Water Quality Extension event, “Pack It Out Utah” which ended on Sunday. It was the second statewide trails and waterways volunteer cleanup event, bringing together local governments, nonprofit organizations and volunteers from across the state to remove garbage from public lands and near waterways to improve water quality.
“Our goal is to help people recognize that garbage in their neighborhoods and on public lands eventually ends up in our waterways and affects water quality,” said Braithwaite, assistant professor for watershed quality from the S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources.
The event encouraged people across the state to take initiative and act as stewards of their watersheds, she said.
Volunteers tracked the garbage they collected and, although numbers are still coming in, more than 6,335 pounds of trash was reported removed from Utah lands by over 400 volunteers. Projects were completed in at least six of Utah’s 10 major watersheds.
People don’t always consider water systems when they throw things out, but trash can travel down storm drains, through streams and rivers, and eventually accumulate in lakes and oceans. It’s more than an aesthetic problem. All debris, but especially plastic, harms habitats, transports chemical pollutants, threatens wildlife, and interferes with human uses of river, marine and coastal environments. It is often eaten by birds, fish, and other wildlife, concentrating toxic chemicals in their tissues and filling their stomachs with non-digestible material.
To battle this issue, volunteers chose a local cleanup event, or they pitched in at any location of their choice. Cleanup sites were scheduled from Bear Lake to St. George. Volunteers documented their results by sharing results on social media with the hashtags #PackItOutUtah and #PackItOutUtah2021.
Partnering organizations collaborated with volunteers for the first time this year to promote organized local cleanups. Participants could also go solo, picking up trash in their own neighborhoods, along favorite trails, campsites and parks. Any trash collected had a positive impact on water quality and local environments, said Braithwaite.
“We all contribute to leaving places better than we found them by packing out our trash,” she said.
Environment and Society Department
Professional Practice Professor for Watershed Quality