Mississippi River Mayors Group Announces Plastics Cleanup Effort 

Keeping a promise they made in 2018, the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI)—a group whose members includes mayors of cities large and small along the Mississippi River—has announced a partnership with the National Geographic Society and the University of Georgia  to combat plastic pollution. The announcement was made March 3 in Washington D.C., during MRCTI’s ninth annual Capitol Meeting, where mayors representing more than 100 communities along the river convened to address critical issues that affect the nation’s most important waterway. 

“Marine debris that continuously enters the Mississippi River poses a large threat to environmental quality and ecosystem health. As the drainage system for 40 percent of the continental United States, plastic waste and other litter travels through storm drains and smaller waterways into the river and its tributaries, ultimately making its way to the Gulf of Mexico and into the ocean. Approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the oceans each year, with rivers contributing to a significant portion of that amount,” the group said in a press release. 

State legislators and mayors from all 10 states along the Mississippi River first made a commitment to reduce plastic waste in the Mississippi River Valley in September 2018. To support this goal, the Mississippi River Plastic Pollution Initiative will generate a first-ever snapshot of plastic pollution along the  river. “As one of the world’s most vital waterways, it is incumbent on us to pilot efforts that will help ensure major rivers stop contributing to the plastic pollution of our oceans,” said Sharon Weston Broome, mayor of Baton Rouge, La., and MRCTI co-chair. 

The initiative will begin with data collection in three pilot locations along the length of the river: Baton Rouge; St. Louis, Mo.; and St. Paul, Minn. The data, which will be collected throughout April, will be generated through a “citizen science” approach, enlisting the participation of thousands of community volunteers. “Citizen science allows us to work together with communities to capture data on what is entering the environment, close to the source,” said Jenna Jambeck, distinguished professor in environmental engineering at the University of Georgia and National Geographic Fellow. 

Under the leadership of MRCTI, the mayors of the Mississippi River in partnership with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), National Geographic Society and the University of Georgia launched the initiative.