Within four hours, about 275 volunteers collected more than 3.3 tons of plastic and glass bottles, fast-food containers, tires and other debris along the shores of Lake Arlington.
But the hard work of last month’s annual cleanup event is quickly undone when trash that is intentionally or accidentally dropped by people gets blown by the wind or washed into the storm drains and creeks by rain, and once again litters the Fort Worth and Arlington sides of the lake.
“Anything that goes on the ground will end up in the watershed,” said Meagan Fendley, the Arlington Water Utilities environmental analyst who organized the seventh annual Lake Arlington cleanup. “The number one pollutant is plastic bottles and styrofoam cups. It seems like such a small thing, but we have so many people.”
To raise awareness about the impact of litter, the Tarrant Regional Water District has launched a public education campaign with the financial support of Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, Mansfield and Denton. The “Reverse Litter” campaign encourages residents to pick up at least 10 pieces of trash each week so it doesn’t flow into North Texas waterways, such as Lake Arlington or the Trinity River.
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The amount of litter in the Metroplex would be reduced by 2.6 million pieces annually if 5,000 people picked up 10 pieces of trash once a week, according to the Tarrant Regional Water Distrct.
“We want people to know when they accidentally or purposely throw trash out of the car or on the ground, it ends up in our water supply,” said Chad Lorance, water district spokesman. “We all benefit by making sure our water supplies are clean and safe. This is a way the public can get involved and do something about it.”
Lorance said taxpayers ultimately wind up paying to clean up litter, much of which could be avoided if people were more cautious about allowing trash to blow out of their vehicles.
“It costs a considerable amount every year for us to dedicate the manpower to clean up the tremendous amount of intentional or unintentional litter,” Lorance said.
According to the Reverse Litter Campaign website, litter cleanup costs in the United States exceed $11.5 billion annually. Cities and agencies in the Metroplex spend about $23 million a year cleaning up litter, the site states.
Arlington City Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon, whose district includes Lake Arlington, said she recently was shocked to see a passing motorist toss paper out his open window.
“I started to honk. Throw it in your car. Throw it out when you get home,” Wilemon said. “Would you do that in your own back yard? No. Why would you do that to everyone else?”
Lake Arlington not only provides boating, fishing and other recreational opportunities in Arlington and Fort Worth, Wilemon said, it also serves as the drinking water source for more than 500,000 people.
“It’s part of our home. We want it pretty. We want it clean,” she said. “It’s something we need to take care of.”
The Tarrant Regional Water District has committed $300,000 for the first year of the Reverse Litter Campaign, which includes a website and television and radio advertisements.
Area cities are also chipping in. Dallas pledged $300,000; Fort Worth, $200,000; Arlington, $50,000; and Mansfield and Denton $25,000 each, Lorance said.
“This is something we anticipate being a long-term campaign,” Lorance said. “Educating the children is a very important part of that process.”