Coastal and Grand River Cleanups raise awareness


Photo by Carolina Angulo

Last Saturday, West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) hosted the 12th annual Mayors’ Grand River Cleanup. The event drew volunteers from across West Michigan, including a number of Calvin College students, to collect trash from the banks of the Grand River and its tributaries.

Last year, the cleanup removed over 30,000 pounds of garbage, thanks to the help of nearly 1,500 volunteers, according to WMEAC’s website.

According to local news channel WZZM 13, this cleanup will be Mayor Heartwell’s last as Grand Rapids’s mayor. He co-founded the event with WMEAC 12 years ago.

Over the past decade, the cleanup has cleared upwards of 130,000 pounds of trash from the Grand River watershed, according to WZZM 13.

 Volunteers assembled at Sixth Street Park to collect garbage bags and plastic work gloves, and to listen to a safety talk before dividing up and diving into the trash collection task.

Stephanie Bradshaw, a junior at Calvin College, and a leader of the Environmental Stewardship Coalition (ESC) on campus, joined the group collecting along a section of Plaster Creek.

“We were out there for about an hour,” she said, “and we picked up 10 to 15 garbage bags of trash.” The event goes a step further than ridding the river of garbage; it intentionally sorts recyclables.

“It’s cool that the Grand River cleanup does recycling as well as trash pickup,” Bradshaw said.

The date also marked the 30th  anniversary of the International Coastal Cleanup, an event coordinated by the Ocean Conservancy. Last year, according to the Ocean Conservancy’s website, “560,000 volunteers in 91 countries picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash.”

In Michigan alone, 2,331 volunteers collectively cleaned 116.7 miles of coastline, removing 4,124 pounds of trash, according to the Ocean Conservancy’s 2015 report. The stats for the country stand at over 200,000 people collecting over four million pounds of trash along approximately 8,500 miles.

Carolina Angulo, a junior at Calvin College, participated in the coastal cleanup of Lake Michigan.

“The amount of garbage was surprising,” Angulo said. “A lot of Styrofoam and a lot of plastic. I’m not going to look at those things the same way again.”

“I feel like we were successful,” she added. The group collected around 20 pounds of trash over the course of the morning. Angulo, who participated last year as well, reported a similar experience.

“There was about the same amount of trash [this year],” she said. “I remember there being a lot last year too — tiny little pieces.”

“I would encourage people to go next time,” Angulo said. “It’s a great event helping to clean up something we all use and something we all love.”