Trash Free Waters
A collaborative effort to remove and reduce marine debris in Tampa Bay
Trash Free Waters (TFW) is an EPA initiative designed to reduce the amount of trash entering our rivers, lakes, streams, and creeks by preventing waste at its source, deploying devices to remove debris from the water, and investing in research that improves our understanding of how trash enters our waterways in the first place.
Through this work, participants in the TFW project aid in the development of effective solutions that reduce trash pollution and minimize its associated environmental and public health risks.
Since 2019, TBEP has been implementing the TFW initiative in the Tampa Bay watershed alongside 5 partner organizations. Together, we’ve deployed a total of 12 litter collection devices in Pinellas, Manatee, and Hillsborough Counties.
The goal of this project is to develop a data-driven Litter Management Plan for Tampa Bay. This plan will provide specific and actionable solutions to reducing marine debris at its source for both individuals and private businesses.
Marine-based litter is a complex issue that requires an in-depth understanding of how trash moves throughout a watershed. Our partners have spent years studying and capturing trash both locally and throughout the nation. When they aren’t in the field collecting data, they’re busy engaging their respective communities in litter removal initiatives.
How does trash enter the water?
Eighty percent of marine debris originates on land. Most of this trash gets into our waterways through stormwater. Stormwater originates when rain falls on an impermeable surface, like roads, roofs, and sidewalks. To reduce flooding, stormwater conveyances have been developed to transport stormwater directly to Tampa Bay without any treatment. Along its journey, stormwater collects everything it touches, including trash and debris left in roads and on sidewalks. This means the receipts and trash seen in a grocery store parking lot will eventually end up in Tampa Bay.
What about Tampa Bay makes marine debris removal so tricky?
One thing about Tampa Bay is…it rains, a lot! Especially in the summer. With enough rain, a device that was empty at 2 PM can overflow with trash by 4 PM as debris travel downstream. This requires our team to make frequent site visits to make sure trash hasn’t escaped the device, and that the device is still fully functioning.
Do these devices harm the environment? What about fish, manatees, etc.?
If properly deployed, these devices allow marine creatures to move under them without impact. In fact, birds and turtles are often observed resting on top of the booms.
Developed by Osprey Initiative, the Litter Gitter involves a boom system similar to that of a WaterGoat, except that it funnels debris into a large steel box at the center. This collection box reduces the amount of trash that escapes the boom during periods of high flow, typically after a large rain event.
You might have seen this one before. Simple booms are attached to both sides of a river bank or stormwater outfall pipe by strong stakes. They are highly adaptable devices and make for great community adoption projects.
Seabins require open-water areas and are better suited for marinas where boom systems aren’t as easy to install. Seabins collect floating debris by pumping water into the device. Newer editions include filters capable of collecting microplastics and fibers.
The most effective way to reduce marine debris is by stopping it at its source. To understand the sources of the pollution, we create a litter profile by cataloging the trash collected at every device cleanup using the EPA’s Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol (ETAP). ETAP is a protocol that provides a standard method for collecting and assessing litter. By recording what kinds of trash we collect, its condition, and where it was found, we can better understand the source of our region’s trash.
Debris collected are separated into 5 categories.
Preliminary Trash Free Waters Results Coming Soon!
A Litter Management Plan for Tampa Bay
Once our collection partners wrap up their portion of this project, we’ll use that data to inform the creation of a Litter Management Plan. This plan will outline marine debris tips and tricks to help both individuals and private companies (restaurants, coastal businesses, etc.) contribute to reduction efforts in the region. It will also serve as a guide for local environmental organizations interested in contributing to ETAP.
While we work on that, consider how you can take steps to reduce marine debris in your community. Click the link below that best describes you for relevant pointers.
Tips & Challenges for Individuals
Like so many environmental issues, it can be hard to feel ambitious when you know the problem is much larger than yourself. Still, individual actions combine to inspire collective change. Start by taking a close look at the items you buy, where they end up, and what alternatives you might like to try out to reduce the amount of trash you personally create. Here are some of our recommendations:
- Volunteer at a local cleanup event
- Our Program and its partners frequently host marine debris removal events all throughout the watershed. Below are a few organizations to check out.
- Unpackage your Life
- Reducing the amount of packaging in your life isn’t easy, but these 10 steps are a good start. Learn More
- Buy with a product’s end of life in mind
- As consumers, we have the greatest ability to change how our products are packaged. Try to avoid purchasing single-use plastics and buy products with the material’s end of life in mind. Ask yourself: can this container be reused for something else? Can this container decompose or be composted?
- The 1-bag a Month Challenge
- For one month, try keeping your home’s trash output to a single bag. Learn More
- Better Recycling
- Recycling is tricky. Make sure you’re doing it right by reviewing Waste Management’s Recycling Guide.
- Support businesses and companies that are reducing the production of single-use items
- Find a brand, restaurant, or organization making a difference and support them.
Tips & Challenges for Businesses
Bars, restaurants, outdoor event coordinators–you all play a massive role in the solution to our marine debris issue.
- Sponsor a local cleanup or plan a staff retreat
- Show your dedication to a clean, litter-free environment by supporting the folks out there cleaning up. Alternatively, grab your co-workers and get your hands dirty. Whatever you do, just make sure it’s followed by an honest commitment to reducing your own waste.
- More tips coming soon!