6HWbNHN-show-poster2x3-c7tgE2Y.png

Artbound

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
5LQmQJY-show-poster2x3-MRWBpAK.jpg

Reporter Roundup

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

The Great L.A. River Clean-Up Extends to Three Saturdays This Year

Support Provided By
Events - 16958.JPG
River Clean Up, 2012 | Photo: Justin Cram

One look at the Los Angeles River during a storm reminds residents of the sheer amount of trash that ends up in the river. Styrofoam packaging, soda cans, candy wrappers, even shopping carts are regular sights in the riverbed. Small things in and of itself, but it adds up to the number one source of pollution in Southern California.

For a quarter of a century, volunteers organized by the Friends of the Los Angeles River have helped clean up this mess. This year, in celebration of this milestone, FoLAR is kicking off three Saturdays of clean-ups in thirteen sites, all along the 51-mile river.

"At FoLAR, we have a handful of staff. It's beautiful to see thousands of people mobilized at the sites, but we really wanted a way to connect and converse with them even more," explained Shelly Backlar, Director for Education Programs at the non-profit.

By breaking up the clean-up into three Saturdays on the soft-bottomed portions of the river, FoLAR is able to establish better connections with its volunteers. More of their staff becomes available at each site, instead of spreading them too thin across one weekend. Volunteers also get the opportunity to visit other sites along the river they might have missed when everything happens at the same time.

Though the event brings together concerned citizens, it also gives them an opportunity to celebrate. "It almost has a community block party feel," says Backlar. Apart from a safety talk, volunteers will be given a brief overview of the types of wildlife that can be found along the river.

Volunteers will be engaged in a bit of citizen science as well. Trash from the rivers will be sorted according to type, weighed and then recorded at each site as part of a public trash report being compiled by the non-profit.

According to Backlar, the trash sorting efforts started in 2004. It was meant to help people confront the amount of trash that gets into the city's waterways. "There was so much plastic in the river then. The trash sort really allows people to see that what they do in their neighborhoods, no matter how far they are, affects the river."

In 2011, FoLAR found that plastic film was the most prevalent type of trash found in the river by volume, especially single-use plastic bags and snack and candy packaging. Metal, cloth and molded plastic were also common. In 2012 and 2013, snack and candy wrappers pushed plastic film out of the top spot.

By doing yearly trash sorts, FoLAR is able to capture long-term trends of trash in the Los Angeles River. The non-profit is still currently working on a more comprehensive report that takes in data from the past three years in consideration; Backlar says the trash situation in the Los Angeles River is getting better. "Since we started doing the clean up, the weight of the trash has gone down," said Backlar.

FoLAR is now looking to compare their data to the one's collected by each city, who are mandated to monitor trash levels in the river.

More than science and duty, however, Backlar says the most fulfilling part of participation is the rare opportunity to get into the riverbed. "It's a way of communing with the river."

River Clean-up starts this Saturday, from 9 a.m. to noon each day. More details here.

Trash sorting at the River Clean Up, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Friends of the L.A. River
Trash sorting at the River Clean Up, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Friends of the L.A. River

Support Provided By
Read More
Kai Anderson's power map of the environmental campaigns led by Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada during his long career in Congress.

Mapping Power and Strategy for Conservation Victories: An Interview with Kai Anderson

Kai Anderson’s eye-catching, multi-colored, hand-drawn thematic maps have developed a cult following in conservation circles in the American West. He walks us through a map he created of Sen. Harry Reid's major environmental campaigns.
Zebra in South Africa's Kruger National Park.

Proposed Coal Mine Threatens UNESCO Site in South Africa

A small company is set on forging ahead with plans for a proposed coal mine near South Africa’s Kruger National Park, despite the public's concerns of environmental threats. 
Booming Las Vegas (Courtesy of KCET)

Harry Reid’s lowercase 'green new deal'

"The New West and the Politics of the Environment," a feature-length documentary for the public television environmental news magazine “Earth Focus,” makes the case for placing former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and Nevada at the center of a green new deal.