On The River: Getting Litter Out Of Our River

BY SHANNON BLANKINSHIP – Outreach Director, St. Johns Riverkeeper

Few waterways are spared from the seemingly endless supply of plastics and litter that dumps directly from storm drain outfalls. In northeast Florida, it is hard to find a creek or park free of these foreign invaders. Getting litter out of our river is a tough job, and few barriers exist to keep it out in the first place. However, growing accustomed to seeing plastics in our backyard creeks and streams hurts all of us, and putting an end to our litter problem should be something we all strive to do.

First, let’s be clear about the sources of litter in our waterways. Litter is the result of our disposable lifestyles. One trip to a big box store or fast food restaurant can yield multiple forms of plastic waste: straws, bags, lids, hangers, and packaging. Concerned citizens will place this plastic in trash cans and roll it to the curb on pickup day for recycling or its proper disposal. However, any non-secured, lightweight litter can accidently fall to the ground or be blown away by the wind. Every heavy rain, any trash that was accidently dropped on the ground, blown out your car, or fell out of an overfilled public trashcan will spill into the streets. Unfortunately, our streets and storm drains lead to our waterways. Plastic continues its journey from single-use to floating hazard.

Microplastics are slowly creeping into our food system. Plastics don’t disappear when they hit the water. They degrade, slowly, becoming smaller and smaller. Plastic bags floating in the river look like jellyfish, and can be ingested by turtles and dolphins. Plastic fishing line, netting, and other plastics can entangle juvenile dolphins and suffocate other species. As fish ingest the tiny invisible remnants our disposable plastics, these items enter the food chains of birds, larger fish, and humans, too. Not even vegetarians are exempt, as most sea salt is already contaminated with microplastics, too.

We can’t wait to tackle the problem of plastics in our oceans. We need to start today, in our own backyard. Here is how:


If you see plastics in your yard, on your street, or in your driveway, pick it up. It may not always be convenient, and yes, it is everywhere. Lead by example, and do your part even when it seems like no one else is. You can also join public cleanups like the ones hosted by the St. Johns Riverkeeper’s Rising Tides or Groundwork Jacksonville. Monthly cleanups on McCoys and Hogans Creek are looking to improve the waterways and help fulfill the vision for an Emerald Necklace in Jacksonville.


This is easier said than done, but supply and demand works. If we all start asking for no straws at restaurants, if we say NO to plastic bags at the grocery store, and if we limit visitation to stores and restaurants that produce large amounts of waste, we can create a reusable economy and have a plastic-free environment. No disposable items are good, but reducing non-biodegradable plastics in places where alternatives are available is where we can begin.  


If you are frequently cleaning up your street, isn’t that a sign that we need more street sweeping? An increasing amount of coastal communities in Florida have passed plastic bag bans, but our state leaders have passed laws banning the bans! Most importantly, outdated infrastructure means our roads lead to our rivers and creeks, and when will this change? When will we invest in clean, fishable, swimmable water in Florida? Demand it.

Let’s get plastics out of our water in 2018. Sounds like a responsible resolution to me.

About Shannon Blankinship

Shannon Blankinship is the Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper and contributes regularly via the “On The River” column building awareness for the many issues that impact the St. Johns River. Shannon received her B.S. from Purdue University in Natural Resources Economics and Policy and her J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She is currently an elected official in Duval County serving on the Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a board member for the local nonprofit The Girls Gone Green and regularly contributes articles affecting animals and health. She is a Springfield resident and works to promote all things great in the urban core neighborhoods.