Diapers, Needles, and Cans. Oh My!

Q&A with Masaya Maeda about the Nash Run Trash Trap


By Mattie Lehman, AWS Public Policy and Advocacy Intern

Each year lotus and lily blooms at the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens (KAG) in Northeastern DC attract large numbers of nature lovers and photographers to view the flowers, wildlife, and unique aquatic plants that make up the marsh area. Thanks to the efforts of the Anacostia Watershed Society, one view visitors do not see is the trash that once plagued the Gardens.

Upstream, the Nash Run Trash Trap operated by AWS stops and collects litter which previously would have made its way towards KAG and ended up in the Anacostia River. The Trap began as a joint project of AWS and the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment in February 2009. Since that time, AWS has continued to maintain the trap and installed an updated version in 2011 designed by Masaya Maeda, AWS Water Quality Specialist.

Masaya and the Nash Run Trash Trap, 2015
Masaya and the Nash Run Trash Trap, 2015.

Since the trap’s installation and throughout an especially wet June this year, Maeda has been tirelessly working to keep the trap cleared, collect data, and evaluate how the process might be even further improved. After over six years of operations, Maeda recently took some time to reflect on the challenges he has faced, the utility of the trap, and future plans for his work.

Q: What methods did you use to find an effective trash trap model for Nash Run?
A: Basic idea is simple. It is a screen. But, it was modeled from a traditional Japanese fishing method. I adopted the method to trap trash.

Q: Does the trap stop most trash from traveling downstream?
A: Almost all. Small pieces of trash may escape from the metal screen, but it can still capture those pieces that are tangled with organic matter such as leaves and twigs. Also, during extreme rain events, the trap is overflowed by design to not create flooding in the nearby residential area. Trash escapes during those events, but they are rare.

Q: How do you keep up with all the trash washed into the trap?
A: After every moderate-severe rainfall we clean out the trap. We usually remove small and thinner pieces of trash and stock them on the land near the trap. Larger items such as bottles are left on the trap. Once a month we get help from volunteers to sort the trash into 6 categories, bag it, and record data for future education and advocacy.

Q: What are some of your current challenges with the trap?
A: There are several challenges including planning volunteer events. The amount of trash, and the weather are factors that influence the volunteer events. If there is no rain before the event, there will be no trash. If there is not trash I have to cancel the volunteer event. If it is going to rain on a planned event date, then I have to cancel. So it is challenging to depend on volunteer help. Maintenance after a rainfall is not schedulable so it is really difficult to plan help.

Q: What data is collected from the trap?
A: Bottles, cans, plastic bags, plastic foam containers, organic debris, and miscellaneous items. We have accumulated data for these categories and have been seeing a declining trend for plastic bags thanks to the bag law in DC.

Q: How has data collected from the trap been used to set AWS public policy priorities?
A: The plastic bag data was used to defend the bag bill as the plastic bag industry tried to repeal the law. When there is data that shows clear decline that proves the effectiveness of the bill, it is then really difficult to repeal the law. Also, our photos and data on plastic foam food and beverage containers helped introduce and pass the plastic foam bans that will begin next year in DC, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Q: Based on the data, what do you see as the next priority to continue reducing root causes of litter?
A: We need to work on bottles and cans. They are now as much as 48 percent of our trash by volume. While we work on it, we also need to raise awareness about food wrappers such as chip bags and candy wrappers, and also grass clippings and leaves. “Leaves?” you might wonder, but I think there are excessive amount of leaves coming to the stream due to impervious surfaces. Too much of those will decay in water and gradually suck up oxygen. More leaves could be composted in our yards and by communities.


Leaf and other organic debris mixed in with trash at the Nash Run trap.

Q: What is in the future for Nash Run Trash Trap?
A: Not sure. What I can say at this point is that we need to see a declining trend in plastic foam products and hopefully bottles and cans. A more mechanically operated trap may need to be installed to reduce the maintenance burden if the stream is a very urban one. However, eventually the trap should be removed. This could be possible when much more runoff is infiltrated into the ground using Low Impact Development (LID) or Environmental Site Design (ESD) techniques just as it does in natural settings (like forests) because it is the runoff that brings trash to streams. Hopefully if there is no stormwater runoff into the stream there will be no trash in it, even tiny pieces. Thus, the trap should NOT be needed in the ideal future.

Q: And just for fun, what are some of the strangest things you have pulled from the trap?
A: Fish in trash in Nash. I wrote a blog about it years ago.  :-)  Or parking violation tickets from the same violator over and over. He does not stop violating the law and just throws away the tickets. Finding diapers is depressing. They are always there. It guarantees, for example, a head start program to pollute the river since such mother/father will surely educate her/his kids to discard trash. Even used condoms are often found on the trap. He will certainly influence his kids or people around him to trash his community.

Q: Lastly, what is the take-away from your trash trap projects?
A: Trash trap effort is a practical/tangible way to dramatically reduce trash in a reasonably short time period. I think that trash pollution must be addressed immediately since it is directly related to a swimmable river. Even if the water quality of the Anacostia is good for swimming, if there is a lot of trash floating on the water, people perceive the river NON-swimmable. No one wants to swim in the river with a lot of trash. However, trash traps should not be the ultimate solution since they cannot capture every single trash piece, especially small pieces that aquatic animals are eating. For a true trash free Anacostia or any waterway, we must stop littering and install more rain gardens and other practices to reduce runoff to capture even small pieces of trash. It is stormwater runoff that carries trash to streams. Thus, far more stormwater should be infiltrated into the ground as natural areas such as forests do. Watershed and land management together with regulations such as bag bills, plastic foam bans, and bottle/can deposit bills, a true trash free Anacostia is possible. In the meantime trash traps are critical devices that quickly reduce the amount of trash in a drastic manner.

-- Mattie Lehman, a recent graduate of Eastern Mennonite University lives and works in Washington, DC.
 

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens Quote from Alan Spears


Additional Information

The trash in Nash Run comes from litter that washes off parts of the Deanwood and Kenilworth communities in the District and from Fairmount Heights and Chapel Oaks in Prince George’s County. One third of the watershed is in Prince George’s County.

Masaya occasionally gives tours of the Nash Run trash traps. Check out our calendar for future events and look for him next summer at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens Festival.

Rebates are available to property owners installing runoff-reducing practices such as rain gardens, green roofs and pervious walks and driveways in the District, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County.

The work of Masaya and AWS to maintain Nash Run and River Terrace trash traps are funded with proceeds from DC’s plastic bag fee through a contract with the District Department of Energy and Environment.

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