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Cape Fear River Watch is collecting 'litter data' at bus stops around Wilmington

About once a week, members from Cape Fear River Watch are out on the street collecting litter data. WHQR looked at how they're doing it and why it matters.

Litter is everywhere these days — sidewalks, alleyways, gardens — and eventually it all ends up in the Cape Fear River if not properly disposed of.

Currently the city of Wilmington’s Public Services Dept. is in charge of installing and maintaining infrastructure — including trash cans, benches, and covered areas — in public areas around Wilmington. However, Rob Clark, the water quality project manager at Cape Fear River Watch, a Wilmington-based nonprofit, said there’s a huge disparity when it comes to where certain structures are being placed.

“So if you’re headed down Front Street towards all the businesses downtown, on your left, you have Solomon towers and on your right, you have large, expensive homes. The stop on the right has an overhang, a bench, and a trash can; and the stop on the left that’s Solomon Towers, has just an old overhang and a bench," he said.

Clark’s method is going to individual WAVE transit bus stops to document and collect trash, note the type of infrastructure provided to the bus stop, and the area or neighborhood where the stop is located. He says that in some instances a bus stop doesn’t have any form of trash receptacle, and since food and drink aren’t allowed on the bus, people will discard items right there on the ground, at the bus stop.

“Sometimes we come across people who are taking matters into their own hands and making makeshift trash cans … We've come across four or five of those at bus stops where people are putting a concrete cylinder or a little metal, like a burn barrel or something like that just to keep the trash there," he said.

Connor Willis is in charge of recording and compiling the litter and bus stop data into an app that he created.

“We record the weight of the transaction…we take a picture of the stop to get the things, anything, any notes…sometimes there might be like the one on Castle Street, there's a trash can there, but it's like 40-50 feet away from the actual bus stop," Willis said.

One area in particular that they’d like to see taken care of is a single trash can on Princess Place Drive. The city removed the trash can after reports of vandalism, however, it was replaced a couple of months later because of an influx of trash in the area. Clark says that as of now he is the only one maintaining the trash can, because they use a specific trash bag to line the can.

“The green ones are a little bit smaller, and it's a two-person job to get it on there because one person has to hold it while the other person spreads it around. But these blue ones are apparently a little bit larger. Typically it's every week we hit it and it's about 15 pounds every week," Clark said.

The group hopes that this data can be used to help the city to understand the need for more infrastructure around bus stops and the importance of maintaining them properly, because Clark said they just don’t have the resources.

“But when it's all said and done it doesn't matter, it should be maintained and it should be here. It shouldn't fall on the responsibility of us and shouldn't fall on the responsibility of the community unless they're compensated.”

Back in May, the City of Wilmington adopted its budget for the fiscal year 2022 through 2023. The Public Services Department was given an 18% increase in funds, with $245,000 which could be set aside for infrastructure.

Megan McDeavitt is a filmmaker from Boone, NC. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Filmmaking at UNCW, and her AAS in Marine Technology at CFCC. She's worked in local journalism throughout North Carolina before returning to school, where she focuses on strengthening her creative storytelling and looking at environmental issues within the community.