Missouri River Relief, along with 85 community volunteers, braved the cold this weekend to participate in the nonprofit's three-day river clean up based at Cooper's Landing on the banks of the Missouri River.
“It’s really awesome what they do,” Nick King, an employee at Cooper's Landing, said. “Today I came in at 9 a.m. and there were around 30 volunteers here, so a lot of people are helping out.”
The event, which usually occurred over one day, was spread out to accommodate volunteers while maintaining COVID-19 social distancing and mask regulations.
“We used to do this with 250 people on one day,” Kevin Tosie, the operations manager for Missouri River Relief, said. He explained that much smaller groups were needed to keep people safe.
Tosie mentioned that although the group used to require that volunteers register for the clean-up event, this year the nonprofit reached out to fellow community nonprofit organizations, partners and civic groups to fill their ranks while keeping publicity low. With a permanent staff of five, Tosie said the organization is mostly volunteer-powered.
“We make sure that our volunteers come prepared, but yeah, it gets a little chilly on the river sometimes,” Tosie said.
After the end of the day Sunday, Tosie said he estimates Missouri River Relief recovered around 3 1/2 tons of trash this weekend, though the exact weight is not yet known. The group set a target of 4 tons collected for the weekend.
Each day of the weekend-long clean-up, volunteers arrived at 9 a.m. and equipped with t-shirts, gloves, a water bottle and any necessary tools they may need for a day on the river. Then, they go through an orientation that teaches them about Missouri River Relief and where the trash in the river comes from, followed by a safety demonstration.
“After that, we fit them with life jackets and they get on a boat, which takes them to pre-scouted trash locations along a 10-mile stretch,” Tosie said. Volunteers spend about three hours on the banks of the river picking up a variety of trash that was either illegally or improperly disposed of.
When the volunteers return to the river bank, the recycling process begins.
Volunteers sift through the trash bags they collect, looking for clean glass, plastic and aluminum, Tosie said, noting that the majority of the trash they collect is plastic bottles and styrofoam cups which get washed into the river via the rain catchment system.
“A lot of people think that if you see a plastic bottle on the street, it’ll go into a drainage system and be pulled out by a municipal worker,” Tosie said. Instead, he explained that rain catchment systems usually transport the trash to creeks, which then flow through tributaries that lead into streams and then Missouri River system.
Sometimes the group and its volunteers haul refrigerators, tires and other strange contraptions out of the river. So far, Tosie said the strangest thing he's found this event is three quarters of a bowling ball and a fully intact barbecue grill.
“Trash is expensive,” Tosie noted, “Some people can't afford that luxury.”
Missouri River Relief had three agents from the Missouri Department of Conservation come out to volunteer at the clean-up event. As a nonprofit, the group partners with other local nonprofits, including Columbia Rotary South and Bass Pro Shops.
Lucas Nava contributed reporting.