We don’t love trash

Especially not in the bayous.

Courtesy of Buffalo Bayou Partnership

On a recent Saturday morning, around 20 volunteers gathered to clean up trash along the Houston Ship Channel. Armed with pickers and trash bags, they started tackling a small “trash beach” across the channel from a refinery. The sand was barely visible below the piles of discarded items covering the beach: tires, a child’s Croc, tennis balls, a plastic toy kitchen.

“We’re just surrounded by plastic bottles,” said Amy Dinn, an environmental lawyer and one of the volunteers. Beneath the larger items, pieces of styrofoam coated the ground, giving it the appearance of snow from a distance.

“We’ve seen way worse,” Dinn said.

The amount of trash that ends up in Houston’s waterways is substantial. In 2021 alone, Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP), one of the main organizations that cleans up trash in and along the bayous, removed nearly 2,000 cubic yards of trash – enough to fill more than 160 commercial dump trucks.

Besides being ugly to look at, trash can worsen water quality and harm plants and wildlife. It can also harbor bacteria, spread disease, and create blockages that worsen flooding.


[Buffalo Bayou Partnership field manager Robby] Robinson said one solution he’d like to see statewide is a bottle deposit where consumers receive money for returning plastic containers.

“If you give them value, you don’t find them on your shores anymore, they end up back into the system getting recycled,” he said.

Studies have shown places with bottle deposits have less litter and higher recycling rates, including reports by Australian researchers and the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful.

Oregon was the first state to implement such a system, and its program is considered to be the most successful. In 2019, the state reached a 90% return rate, meaning 90% of all items covered by its deposit program were returned for recycling.

Bottle bills have been introduced several times in Texas, but have never passed. A report prepared by an independent consultant for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2021, recommends further investigating a bottle bill for the state.

Beyond legislative action, Robinson said it’s also important to make people aware of the problem, which is where volunteer groups come in.

“Most people never get to see how horrific this problem is,” Robinson said.

You can click over to see more pictures if you want to get an idea of that. I like the idea of a bottle deposit, especially given its track record, but that’s still one small piece of the puzzle. We as a society need to do a better job of, you know, not littering. The solutions for that are a lot more complicated.

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7 Responses to We don’t love trash

  1. J says:

    When I was a kid there was a deposit for Coke bottles. My parents never gave me any kind of allowance, so a typical summertime expedition began with scouring the neighborhood for discarded bottles and ending up at the 7-11 to buy Lik-m-aid or Pop Rocks. The lesson is that the bottles were returned. I know there would be a lot less plastic trash around if we had plastic bottle deposits.

  2. J says:

    There is now evidence for a much larger health problem than is generally recognized. Tons of very tiny particles of plastic have been found in the air of Auckland (New Zealand), believed to have been sent airborne by breaking waves.


  3. C.L. says:

    Look no further than Houston’s freeways and roads in/around the Buffalo Bayou watershed – – all that sh** that’s not being cleaned up by TxDOT, the CoH, etc., only has one place to go when it rains… Buffalo Bayou, Houston Ship Channel, Galveston Bay, Gulf of Mexico. It piling after it rains on the local beaches should surprise literally no one.

    Implementing a bottle ‘tax’ isn’t going to solve the problems with 6 million people dropping the trash on Mother Earth instead of finding a refuse can and hoping it makes it to a landfill or recycling center. Folks will pay their $00.05/bottle fee and throw it out their car window when drained, just like they’ve always done.

    I’ll give huge props to BBP for trying to tackle the problem. There should be, at minimum, a giant catch-all net at the Sabine Street Bridge if we’re going to make even the slightest dent in the problem.

  4. Joel says:

    If the plastic probably isn’t going to get recycled anyway, then really what is the diff between filling up the earth with trash starting at the landfills until they overflow and become mountains, or just filling up the earth with trash by spreading it evenly over the entire surface of the planet?

    The problem isn’t what people do with plastic bottles after they use them, the problem is that they are being made in the first place.

  5. Joel says:

    Wish I could edit: “plastic recycling” is just propaganda being run by corporations that don’t want to stop making single-use stuff out of plastic.

  6. mollusk says:

    FWIW, a nickel deposit in 1970 is ~40 cents now – go ahead and call it 50.

    Joel is right. A lot of single use plastic can’t be practically recycled even if people could be persuaded to doing so.

    And let’s not forget that conservation is now apparently at odds with “conservative” values. One of my more performatively R coworkers will purposely put his aluminum soda cans into the trash, even though there is a recycling container literally right next to it.

  7. C.L. says:

    So no solution to the problem, Joel Debbie-Downer ?

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