Excuse Me, Is This Your Disco Ball? Whacko Items Found on River Cleanups


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Every year around the country, river advocacy groups, outfitters, paddling shops and more host river cleanups to pick trash out of their local waterways. But what they find isn’t always always the errant flip-flop, or what you’d expect.

“Most things found at cleanups are cigarette buds, plastic bottles and cans,” says Madeline Bule of conservation group American Rivers, which sponsors countless river cleanups every year around the country. “Sometimes it’s a few tires, couches and shopping carts. But then there are things you would not expect.

river cleanupOne of these interesting cleanup finds includes a $100 bill. “Yes, you heard that correct,” she says. “A volunteer during a Friends of Poquessing Creek cleanup found a $100 bill during a cleanup outside of Philadelphia and rather than keep it, they donated it to the group organizing the cleanup.”

Out in Colorado, Pete VanDeCarr, owner of Backdoor Sports, regularly hosts river cleanups on his hometown Yampa River. Among their more unique finds, they’ve found sex aids, bikes, flip-flops, car parts, diamond rings, “and a bazillion golf balls.”

Out in the Pacific Northwest, Zach Collier of Northwest Rafting Co. (https://www.nwrafting.com) has had some weird finds as well. They range from a gun and a safe to “loads and loads of shopping carts.” He hates to admit that condoms are also a relatively frequent find.

river cleanup
Yes, that’s an Elmo doll.

“We have no idea why we find such odd kinds of trash, but it happens more than you think,” adds AR’s Bule.

Other items she says have gotten found in AR-supported cleanups include Halloween costumes and décor, an Elmo doll and even a punching bag (“We’re just as confused as you about that one,” she says.) During the Mayor’s Grand River Cleanup hosted by West Michigan Environmental Action and sponsored by Cascade Blonde American Whiskey, volunteers even found two vacuum cleaners.

Bonus: Q&A with American Rivers National River Cleanup ManagerMadeline Bule

PL: How many river cleanups does AR sponsor every year? 

Bule:American Rivers’ National River Cleanup® supports an average of 275 cleanup events annually. We partner with companies and local groups to execute our own river cleanup events, as well as support local organizer-led events of all types and sizes to successfully execute their cleanup. For organizers, NRC provides technical assistance and resources such as trash bags and tools (handbook, website, etc.). We also connect volunteers to cleanup events in their community.

rier cleanupPL: What’s so good about them?

Bule: They provide an opportunity for individuals to give back and protect our natural resources in the communities in which we live, work and play. These community efforts effectively restore rivers by keeping recreation areas safe, wildlife habitat healthy and waters swimmable and fishable. They’re also an effective tool to both educate and engage volunteers about how pollution harms our waterways and why clean rivers are important. Volunteers are often transformed by the satisfaction that comes from participating in a cleanup event and seeing the tangible results of improving their local communities. You can do a cleanup by yourself or with a group anytime, anywhere. Every piece collected makes a difference. Plus it allows you to be outside, exercise, spend time with your dog, family or friends, and reconnect with nature, while making a difference for rivers.

PL: Any other weird finds?

Bule: We’ve had a bunch….a plastic raven statue. mannequin head, bowling ball, disco ball, blow torch, cash register, washing machine, Where’s Waldo plush toy, message in a bottle and more.

PL: If someone wants to organize a river cleanup, can they contact you?

Bule:They sure can. The best way is to visit our website at www.americanrivers.org/organizer or contact me at nrc@americanrivers.org.And if people find an interesting item during their own cleanup, share it with us and Cascade Blonde American Whiskey, sponsor of National River Cleanup® on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Tag @americanrivers and @cascadeblonde.

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