Trapping Trash to Protect Waterways

Photo courtesy of Asheville GreenWorks.

Starting in 2015, Asheville GreenWorks began testing and installing litter traps in WNC streams and creeks. The original device evolved into the Trash Trout. In 2022, GreenWorks will install 15 Trash Trout Juniors on streams across the State in partnership with the Waterkeeper Alliance. Municipalities, such as Boone and Henderson County, have already installed Trash Trouts to protect their waterways.

Trash Trouts are purpose-built stormwater litter traps that sit in urban creeks and streams keeping manmade trash from entering main waterways. When it rains, roadside litter travels through our storm drain systems, eventually emptying into streams that flow into river basins where petroleum-based plastics begin to break into microplastics.

You may have seen a Trash Trout in Hominy Creek as you drive on I-26. As you pass it, you might consider that roadside littering accounts for 75% of the trash in the nation’s waterways. GreenWorks and its nearly 3,500 volunteers collect tons of trash (37.43 tons in 2019, an increase of nearly 10 tons from 2018) from rivers and roadsides annually.

Eric Bradford is both the brains and the muscle behind the Trash Trout program. He is also developing the Streamkeepers program as part of GreenWork’s most recent grant from the Pigeon River Fund. This cadre of volunteers will lead river cleanups and maintain the growing number of Trash Trouts and Trash Trout Juniors on local waterways.

The Trash Trouts and Trash Trout Juniors are one piece of a coordinated multi-faceted approach to address water quality. GreenWorks now manufactures and sells Trash Trouts and works with municipalities and nonprofits to integrate them into stormwater management plans. The Trash Trouts come with programmatic support, technical assistance and consultation on the community engagement required to maintain the devices.

In addition to the immediate impact of improving water quality, the project has the broader impact of raising awareness of water quality issues among the public. The devices are highly visible and signage on each informs passersby about the purpose of the device.

“We are different from other litter-capturing device manufacturers in that our primary concern is improving water quality, not making money,” explained GreenWorks Executive Director Dawn Chávez. “We insist that any installation include the development of a maintenance plan from the outset. For a Trash Trout to become an eyesore or a hazard would have the opposite effect of what we hope to achieve.”

CFWNC’s Pigeon River Fund has been funding GreenWorks since 2013 including a recent $28,000 grant supporting modifications to the Trash Trout design. A 2021 Natural and Cultural Resources Capacity grant is supporting fund development planning as well.