My-Turn-thumbBy Kyla Colon and Kavi Mitchell

For Earth Day, Methow Recycles and WasteWise organized a litter pick-up. Ninety-five community members plus Liberty Bell High School science students cleaned up over 60 miles of roadside plus the school grounds.

We participated by weighing, sorting and analyzing the litter that was found along roadsides and on trails in the Methow Valley. Bags of litter were picked up and turned in at collection sites. The litter was divided into garbage and recycling, and then we helped sort the recycling. We estimate that 1,537 pounds of litter were picked up. Garbage was 60 percent of the total, recycling was the other 40 percent.

The table below shows the weights of different kinds of recycling found:

CONTENTS WEIGHT
Garbage 921 lbs
Glass 255 lbs
Tin cans 6 lbs
Mixed paper 25 lbs
Cardboard 14 lbs
Plastic (#1) 63 lbs
Plastic (#2) 6 lbs
Scrap Metal 105 lbs
Aluminum cans 142 lbs

There are 32 aluminum cans in a pound, which means that about 4,544 cans were picked up. Most of them were beer cans. We are concerned that all those beer cans tossed out of vehicles indicate a bigger issue of drinking and driving.

We were also curious about what happens to litter if it is not picked up. Does it decompose? What takes the longest to decompose? What kinds of hazards do they create to the environment?

• Paper products will disintegrate in as little as a few weeks or months as long as there is moisture, otherwise they will last for years.

• Animals may eat plastic items or become entangled in them, causing injury or death. Plastic does not decompose, but most plastic bottles can be recycled.

• Glass is made from sand. Eventually, a glass bottle will break down and turn into small glass pieces. If pieces of glass end up in the river they will be broken. Broken glass is dangerous to animals and humans because it can cut them.

• Aluminum cans contain residue of the product they held that can attract unwanted animals or insects. They also can catch rainwater. The animals can hurt themselves. Insects such as mosquitoes may thrive in them.

Litter can also harm our water system. One way is when litter is carried into lakes or rivers through wind or water runoff. Another way is when residue from litter gets into our water cycle.

This project has helped us to realize that litter has a damaging effect on people, animals, and the environment around us. Please don’t litter!

Kavi and Kyla are in the ninth grade at Liberty Bell High School.