Nicole Welle | March 8, 2021
Cities along the Mississippi River will take part in a new project to help identify where plastic pollution entering the Gulf of Mexico is coming from.
The Mississippi River serves as a drainage system for 40% of the United States and sends huge amounts of plastic pollution into the Gulf of Mexico every year. To combat the problem, the new project will allow “citizen scientists” to record sources of litter they observe along the river on a mobile app. Officials will then enter the data onto a virtual map that policymakers can use to develop ordinances and plans to reduce plastic pollution, according to an Associated Press article.
Most plastic pollution enters the river through municipal storm drains and tributary streams. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic flow into oceans every year, and the debris often kills or severely injures fish and other marine life. Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer with the University of Georgia, hopes the project will spark conversation between mayors, stakeholders and community members.
“Mayors can use the data to bring stakeholders together to have conversations about what kinds of interventions make sense for their towns,” Jambeck said. “And community members can use the data to bring people together to discuss the issue and discuss what kind of actions they want to take.”
The new project follows an agreement made in 2018 by the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative to reduce plastic pollution in the Mississippi River valley. Baton Rouge, Louisiana; St. Louis, Missouri and St. Paul, Minnesota are leading the effort, and they are currently working on community education and outreach efforts. Webinars will be available this month to community members who wish to use the mobile Debris Tracker to help.