Monday, March 1, 2010





Why is our park sometimes so full of trash? The areas in the creek beds are particularly likely to contain trash because they are in a major drainage.

Before there were any houses in Gracywoods, when it rained, every little blade of grass, bush, or rock slowed the speed of the water as it flowed down hill. As the short grass prairie and hill country underbrush broke the force of the flowing water, the runoff dropped most of what it was carrying. At every pool and marshy place, sediment was deposited and the water was naturally filtered. Of course, back then there was little more than organic matter, which quickly rotted into good soil, making the creek banks an excellent place for plants to grow, and assured clean, clear water.

When these grasslands were developed into neighborhoods, roads were constructed. It is dangerous for motorists if roads retain water over their surface. It is important for roads to drain quickly. Storm sewers were installed at the curb to allow rapid road drainage.

This runoff water is now flushed down to the creek through a series of large pipes.

Anything that this water is carrying is rapidly flushed into the creek.

During storms, the creek now has to handle, on average, much more water at one time than it did in the past. These larger, faster water flows guarantee that this water is carrying much more with it, including trash.

All of this trash comes entirely from our neighborhood. Any trash on the sidewalks or on the street is taken down to the creek with each storm. We have had a lot of rain this winter, and as a consequence, there is now more trash than usually in the creek bed.

If this trash is not removed, it eventually flows on down the creek, but it is soon replaced by more new trash. All this debris eventually winds down Walnut Creek to the Colorado River, and down the Colorado River to the Gulf of Mexico. But that is not the end of the story. Our oceans are being flooded with plastic, which is doing real damage to ocean ecosystems:

Some of this garbage in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is coming from the Gracywoods neighborhood. It’s our trash!

Most of the trash in our creek is some form of plastic, including many plastic bags.

 Plastic bags are light, and can easily be carried with the wind.

If we would all stop using plastic bags and carry our own cloth bags with us when we go shopping, we could eliminate a lot of our trash.  Here are some interesting facts about plastic bags:

  • Between 4 and 5 trillion plastic bags are manufactured around the world each year.
  • Plastic bags are made from petroleum. It takes about 180 million barrels of oil to make 5 trillion plastic bags.
  • Americans throw away approximately 100 billion plastic bags each year.
  • It takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to break down in the environment.

  • Approximately 1 billion seabirds and sea mammals die each year by mistakenly ingesting plastic because they think the plastic is food. These animals die a painful death because the plastic usually gets stuck in their intestines or chokes them to death.

One picture is worth a thousand words. To really understand what this means, there is a movie at this link:

This concerns birds, which are some of my favorite animals. Although it is strangely beautiful, please be warned – this may be one of the saddest films you will ever see. I still believe it is worth watching, because if we don’t know what is happening, we have no reason to change our behavior.

You have an opportunity to help change this situation!

You are invited to join us for It’s My Park Day at 9 AM on March 6 and help us clean up the trash, as well as help with many other projects:

Come and meet your neighbors, and help us keep our parks looking beautiful!

But there is more you can do, and it’s easy! Keep the streets in front of your house clean and free of trash so that it won’t run down the storm sewers and end up in the creek. Make sure that all the trash in your garbage bin is inside a plastic garbage bag so that it doesn’t spill out when the trash is collected. Learn how to make the best use of the City of Austin’s great recycling program and recycle as much as possible:

Here is something else you can do, but it may be a little more challenging. If you see one of your neighbors disposing of trash improperly, find an appropriate way to let them know. We all live here together – it’s never wrong to pass along useful information.

I like to think globally, and act locally. Keeping Garcywoods free of trash by raising our neighborhood’s awareness of the problem and encouraging everyone to be a part of the solution not only makes Gracywoods a better place to live – it helps to solve a growing global problem, too.


It's Our Park day was a smashing success. In addition to a record number of 70 volunteers who turned out to paint benches and bridges and mulch trees, we had a large crew that helped to clean up the trash. Boy, did we clean it up! We retrieved over twenty garbage bags full of trash, four bags of recyclable plastic, glass, and aluminum, six old tires, a lawn chair, a large rug, and a Christmas tree from the creek and surrounding areas. I feel certain that we saved at least a few sea creatures from death due to ingesting plastic by preventing some of our garbage from making it to the ocean. How often do we get to brag about that? As you walk through the parks this spring, take a moment to notice how clean the creekbeds are, at least until the next big rainstorm. And if you didn't make it this time, don't worry, we will be doing it again. Thanks to all those who helped - you really did make a difference! 

1 comment:

  1. Way to go! The Gracywoods trash-picker-uppers rock!