Wearing gloves and hauling garbage bags, 25 volunteers scoured three sections of the Tennessee River and removed 9,208 pounds of plastic over the course of three days earlier this month, nonprofit Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful (KTNRB) recently reported.
The organization received help from the Johnsonville State Historic Park for what has now become a semi-regular occurrence. Several times a year, volunteers with KTNRB conduct large-scale plastic cleanups of the river.
“The really exciting thing about the cleanups in this new area of focus for our organization is that you see momentum building with our partners and volunteers from the time we held a cleanup in October to this past weekend,” Kathleen Gibi, KTNRB executive director, said in a statement.
“That’s how the change for our river will happen: through local partners and individuals who are eager about taking ownership to protect and improve their beautiful river community,” she added.
In photos of past cleanups, volunteers can be seen picking large tires out of muddy shallows and scanning the coastline for plastic debris, holding up discarded toys, and stuffing plastic grocery bags into larger garbage bags. In November 2020 alone, KTNRB collected 35,500 pounds of plastic from the river. By the end of this year, the group aims to have removed more than 100,000 pounds of plastic.
In addition to providing clean-up opportunities, KTNRB also encourages people to pledge to stop using single-use plastics altogether.
KTNRB programs span seven states to cover all 652 miles of the Tennessee River, which is considered one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world. Chemicals and fossil fuel companies routinely dump chemical slurries, coal ash, and other toxic waste into the river, and it has one of the highest concentrations of microplastics ever discovered in a body of water.
The volunteer-driven river cleanups can only address the most visible forms of plastic waste. To tackle the issue of microplastics, other methods of filtering the water will have to be implemented. As far as the toxicity of the river is concerned, volunteers can call on politicians to hold polluting companies accountable, according to the New York Times.
Communities around the world have been resisting the rapid degradation of the planet through grassroots activism, organizing events like rallies and cleanups. From Mumbai to New York, everyday people are heading to coastlines to fill up garbage bags. They’re also building networks of power, educating their neighbors about the sources and consequences of pollution, and advocating for new economic models that produce less waste.