Written by Mary Reid Barrow
When Helen Kuhns was in her canoe cleaning up trash at Green Run this summer, she was shocked by the number of plastic bags that were clogging the canal.
“When I was paddling, I would pull up plastic bags on my paddle,” Helen said.
She is assistant Director of Lynnhaven River NOW which holds cleanups at least monthly around the beach. That particular clean-up day, Helen said she could see plastic bags all over the canal bottom and also floating on the water.
A loose plastic bag takes on a life of its own. Not only does it blow across the land, but also into the water where it floats, then deflates and falls to the bottom, Helen said.
This clean up at Green Run was the second one this year and another is planned for the fall because “there is still so much trash to be removed,” she said.
That day, about 15 volunteers, half in boats and half on land, cleaned up 406 pounds of trash. They cleaned up 556 pounds the next month.
“That’s almost 1000 pounds of trash in Green Run in a month!” Helen said. “And we left a lot behind.”
Other large neighborhoods in Virginia Beach have a big trash problem too, she added. But Green Run draws traffic from three major roadways, Rosemont, South Independence and Lynnhaven, and gets a double whammy because city garbage trucks drive to the city’s transfer station through the neighborhood. Trash blows out of the trucks along the way.
This year LRNow has already cleaned 10,000 pounds of trash across the city. To put it another way, that’s five tons of trash, more trash than all of last year, Helen said.
“And we still have a full quarter of cleanups to go this year,” she added.
“The numbers get higher every year. There are a lot of volunteers out there who are cleaning up trash with other groups besides us, and it still gets worse,” Helen said.
After plastic bottles, more plastic bags are picked up than any other type of trash. But, as Helen said, plastic bags have a life of their own.
Bags not only end up in waterways but get snagged in trees, blow across farm fields, bottle up storm drains, end up in bird nests, entice sea turtles to eat them and more.
On that day in Green Run, Helen said, a volunteer picked up a dead turtle that became tangled in a plastic bag after swallowing a fishhook.
“It was terrible,” she said. “Hopefully, we can learn from this so he won’t have died for nothing.”
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