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Keep Austin Beautiful Provides a Local Solution to a Growing Global Problem

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Nonprofit Keep Austin Beautiful is committed to cleaning up Austin’s lakes.   

By Raylyn Nicole

Our oceans are choking on plastic. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year, which is the equivalent of dumping 90 aircraft carriers of plastic into the ocean annually.

In an article published by the World Economic Forum, researchers estimated that just 10 river systems—eight in Asia, two in Africa—carry 90 percent of the plastic that ends up in the ocean. China is making efforts to curb waste by ending imports of recyclable waste from overseas to focus on its own recycling efforts. The European Union is also working to reduce its carbon footprint by re-evaluating how the continent produces and uses single-use plastics.

While global in impact, recycling and preserving nature starts at home. Local efforts have been made by Keep Austin Beautiful, a nonprofit organization that focuses on education and cleanups throughout town, to address these issues in Austin.

Keep Austin Beautiful offers multiple programs, including Clean Lady Bird Lake and Lake Travis Cleanup. The Clean Lady Bird Lake program started 10 years ago in partnership with the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department. Cleanups are held on the lake every other month, with trained volunteers collecting, separating and disposing properly of materials picked up from the water and along the shore.

Andrew Gansky, development coordinator at Keep Austin Beautiful, says the program started because of the lake’s central location and integral role in the city’s culture. The area also received the most complaints about litter.

In the past year, Gansky says volunteers have pulled 16,500 pounds of trash and 2,500 pounds of recycling out of the lake.

A similar program, the Lake Travis Cleanup was started in 1994 by divers who noticed trash in the bottom of the lake. Eventually, Travis County, the Colorado River Alliance and Keep Austin Beautiful partnered to organize an annual cleanup. Divers, shoreline volunteers and kayakers and canoers all participate in the annual cleanup.

This year, Sept. 16, volunteers picked up 613 pounds of recyclables and 2,975 pounds of trash from the shoreline, while divers pulled 1.78 tons of trash, 1 ton of recycling and 1.16 tons of scrap metal from the bottom of the lake.

“With both of these specific programs, Clean Lady Bird Lake and the Lake Travis Cleanup, so much of what we find so great about them is how much the community is engaged with them,” Gansky says. “As much as we can engage with more members of the community, I think a bigger impact that it has.”

Many of the creeks and watersheds in Austin drain into the Colorado River or into Lady Bird Lake, and if trash is not picked up, it continues to travel downstream and can eventually end up in the ocean.

“What happens to that trash when it is left in the environment and, moreover, what happens here does eventually have an impact on the broader context of the environment,” Gansky says. “If we can stop some of that trash here, then it doesn’t end up in the ocean and it doesn’t contribute to these global environmental problems like the trash islands out in the Pacific.”

One main way to reduce the amount of litter that ends up in waterways is to make sure trash and recycling end up in disposal containers.

“It’s one of those constant challenges, trying to stop litter before it happens,” Gansky says. “I think our ultimate dream would be that we wouldn’t have to hold cleanups like this as frequently as we do because there would be less litter in the first place.”



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