Dig Baton Rouge

Trash Talks

By Jonathan Olivier

Nathaniel Klumb is no stranger to Baton Rouge’s trash. In fact, he may be the person who understands the city’s litter issue the most.

Klumb, who works as a computer programmer, spends his off time as an avid paddler of the city’s interior bayous and creeks. The waterways are a hidden gem that act as bustling centers of wildlife right in the middle of the city, which he said drew him to them.

“Baton Rouge has some of the most beautiful wildlife inhabited waterways probably of anywhere in the country,” he said. “I’ve seen otters and alligators. Basically everything you can see in the Louisiana exhibited zoo is pretty much out there.”

Venturing into the waterways, however, brought Klumb face to face with a problem he wasn’t ready for.

As he paddled, he maneuvered through floating litter of all sorts. His view of wildlife wasn’t pristine, but rather obstructed by trash lining the banks.

The tree-lined waterways hide the problem from the view of most of the public, and Klumb said actually getting into the bayous and creeks unveils the true issue.

According to Klumb, the trash that ends up in places like Bayou Fountain or Ward’s Creek, which are waterways snaking through the city, come from the interior of Baton Rouge. When people litter, the debris collects until it rains and it’s washed into storm drains and, eventually, out into streams.

The problem is exacerbated when trees fall into the streams and block water flow. The blockage collects trash that continues to build up for years.

“In the last two to three weeks I’ve found on Bayou Fountain three Clearly Canadian soft drink bottles,” Klumb said. “They haven’t made those in a decade. Some of this litter has been there a long, long time.”

For the past few years, PaddleBR, Klumb’s paddling group, has been teaming up with other grassroots organizations for what he calls trash sweeps. The most recent one was held April 19, and multiple bags were filled to capacity with loads of trash.

Through that grassroots effort, the bayous and creeks are finally beginning to clear. But Klumb and his cohorts can continue to pick up trash every day of the week, and more will continue to flow into the streams. No amount of clean ups can stop the influx of trash, and Klumb knows that.

What it will take is a change in culture, state of mind and awareness for the environment.

“When you have this many people in an area with this much drainage, the little things are the things that end up adding up more than anything,” Klumb said. “It’s all going to come down to the people; it has to.”

With Earth Day passing this week, officials organizing Baton Rouge’s downtown celebration on Sunday have plans to help usher in a new mindset for the city. Environmental stewardship, green initiatives and recycling education are all on the agenda, but the question is if attendants will take away valuable information to help do their part to turn the capital city into an environmentally friendly one.

After all, turning a city into a cleaner, environmentally conscious one takes an effort by many, not just a select few. And while it may be hard for Baton Rouge residents to see the city’s current “green,” environmentally sustainable state or whatever one may call it, for an outsider looking in, it’s quite clear.

“Baton Rouge as an environmentally friendly city is awful,” said Kirk Magnuson, LSU student and environmental activist from San Diego, Calif. “It’s one of the worst places I’ve seen. People don’t seem passionate about [environmentalism].”

Magnuson prides himself on being conscious of his effect on the world around him, and that’s something he feels is lacking in the city. Issues with public transportation, not enough bike lanes and an unsafe biking environment in the city, as well as individual’s poor knowledge of reducing environmental impact are just a few obstacles he said are inhibiting Baton Rouge’s pathway to sustainability.

Some of the blame Magnuson places is on city government, but a large portion he attributes to a cultural problem that he believes isn’t getting any better.

“It’s a lot of personal choices that cause a lot of this,” he said. “In Louisiana, I don’t think people are aware of it. People need to change, but in Baton Rouge, people aren’t open to it right now.”

Baton Rouge city government is certainly doing what they can to alleviate the environmental problems in the city through education, as well as putting into place practices to reduce carbon emissions while focusing on creating an all-around greener city.

The Baton Rouge Recycling Office, which handles residential recycling, is one of the best in the state, according to BRRO Director Susan Hamilton.

Louisiana has a state-wide recycling goal, which is to divert at least 25 percent of trash from landfills by recycling. Baton Rouge continues to exceed that figure, and it could be even higher.

Hamilton said currently nearly 70,000 recycling carts are distributed throughout the city, which is only 54 percent of the eligible households that are recycling. There is nothing stopping the additional 46 percent from recycling, but just a phone call to order a cart.

Hamilton said the office isn’t even offering recycling carts to apartments anymore, because owners of the complexes didn’t utilize the carts since they said they took up too much space. Now, those wishing to recycle that live in an apartment have to participate in the “Recycle Rouge Roundup for Apartment Tenants and Small Business,” which only takes place on the third Saturday of each month.

Hamilton admits there comes a point when the residents of the city have to pick up the slack. The government provides the education and resources, but she said, as both Klumb and Magnuson pointed out, it’s up to the public to take the initiative.

“At the end of the day, it’s our responsibility as individuals…to do the right thing,” she said. “I think the recycling program has raised awareness for a need to not litter, as well as be conscious of materials we buy. I think we’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.”

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