Earth week series – 4



By John Fish, Litter Abatement Program Coordinator and Recycling Center Manager

There’s no getting around the fact that our lives have been upended by this pandemic. We had forgotten just how much havoc something unseeable with the naked eye can cause. 

Although much of our ordinary life has been suspended by the need to maintain safe distancing and limit the spread of the COVID-19 disease, the other urgent crises we were dealing with before this situation are still very much with us.

One is the problem of waste: how much we produce, first and foremost, but also how much of it isn’t properly disposed of right here in metro-Kansas City. If waste isn’t recycled (when it’s accepted for recycling) or landfilled, it becomes litter. 

All you need to do is look around to see that far too much waste is becoming litter. Many of our shopping center and restaurant and convenience store and drug store parking lots are trashed, as are our roadsides. 

Even many neighborhoods have major litter problems. 

Once waste is misplaced, it is bad enough that it’s ugly. What many people don’t realize is that, if litter isn’t picked up quickly, much of it ends up being carried by rain into storm sewers. Those storm sewers dump unfiltered into creeks, and all those creeks are tributaries of our area rivers, the Kaw, Blue, Little Blue, and Missouri.

The Missouri River carries all the flowing water from metro-KC eastward to join with the Mississippi near St. Louis. Once conjoined, they flow on to the Gulf of Mexico.

In other words, some of the litter that goes on the ground here, in the middle of the continent, will end up in the ocean. It may be broken up so much by then that it is unrecognizable, but it gets there.

Given almost all waste that becomes litter is made at least partly out of plastic, some of it will be there as far into the future as we can imagine. You see, plastic never really decomposes, it just breaks down into ever-smaller pieces.  

It’s become clear within the last several years that we have a massive plastic trash problem in the oceans. And, though most of it goes into the ocean from Asian countries, some percentage of it was consumed in the U.S. and shipped overseas to be ‘recycled,’ but it wasn’t worth recycling.

With Earth Day here and lots of us with both extra time on our hands and a stir-crazy ache in our bones, one thing we can all do is pick a trail or a park or a street or a creek we love and make a habit of cleaning up litter there.

This is something you can do by yourself or in cooperation with the people you live with. It’s a particularly great way to teach kids about the damage done by our disposable society and to inspire them to build something better.

Of course it’s important to practice proper hygiene when doing a litter clean-up, particularly on a creek: 

  • Wear protective gloves
  • Use litter grabbers as much as possible to avoid touching the waste
  • Don’t touch your face
  • Use hand sanitizer when you’re finished if there’s no accessible place to wash your hands 
  • Wash your hands thoroughly when you get home

Bridging The Gap is here to help. With funding from the KC Water Department and the Dunn Family Foundation, we operate a Tool Lending Shed that loans out litter grabbers and safety vests. Normally these are used for a one-day clean-up and returned within several days, but our current circumstances allow us to loan them out for longer. 

 We’ll even provide gloves and trash bags free of cost if money is an obstacle. If you expect to collect more trash than you can dispose of with your household waste, we can help you arrange to have it picked up.  

You can learn more about the Tool Lending Shed here. If you have additional questions, please email me at or call 816-944-2383.

Here’s to a world without litter!   


What’s on the ground is in our water, and there is less of it thanks to the awesome people who show up to pick up litter along creeks. Happy #NationalVolunteerWeek to these volunteers who do their part to help keep waterways around the metro healthy and clean!  #NVW2020  #volunteerBTG


Bridging The Gap and local partner organizations share 50 ways you can celebrate 50 years of Earth Day while you #StayHomeKC!



Celebrate 50 years of Earth Day with a gift to Bridging The Gap and help protect KC’s natural environment for 50 more! Donate to BTG