Intern Story: Plastic Accumulation in Our Creeks

Environemnt Texas Intern Bridget calls on Austin to take action to put wildlife over waste and stop plastic pollution.

As a student at the University of Texas at Austin, I spend most of my time on campus. Whenever I have a spare moment between the bustle of classes, there’s a cosy spot outside of the  Alumni Center that’s the perfect place to sit, enjoy a cup of tea, and relish in the view of Waller Creek. It’s a beautiful stream but its path is directly adjacent to the Longhorn football stadium leaves it vulnerable to single-use plastic pollution. Everything from soda bottles and food containers, to plastic bags litter in the Creek after a big gameday weekend.  

Plastic pollution isn’t just a problem in Waller Creek. It is a problem of growing importance across our city, our state, and our planet. When plastics are not properly disposed of, they pose a threat not only to the integrity of our land but also to the integrity of our waterways, especially our oceans. Waste that accumulates in our creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes is then transported to our oceans, where it accounts for about 80% of the debris that occupies them. I think about this whenever I am sitting outside by Waller Creek. Waller Creek feeds into Lady Bird Lake and the Colorado River, which feeds into the Gulf Coast. So when I see a plastic bottle, coffee lid, or plastic bag floating in the water, I know it will inevitably make it to the ocean. 

About 40% of plastics are thrown away after only one use and they take hundreds of years to break down. Plastic also poses a significant threat to our wildlife who often mistake it for food. In addition to harming our wildlife, plastic use is also a concern for our health. When the chemicals in plastic products are consumed they can lead to the cancer, obesity, and developmental issues. With the use of plastic increasing due to Covid-19, it’s more important than ever to address this issue. 

This is a problem that we can not recycle ourselves out of. Around 47% of all plastic waste in the U.S. is from single-use plastics and packaging and only 2% of plastics are recycled effectively. However, there is a way to stop this type of pollution from happening in the first place. We can protect our waterways by banning single-use plastics. These products are a threat that must be tackled if we want to protect our land, our waterways, our wildlife, and ourselves from their damaging effects. One way we are doing this is by campaigning for the Austin City Council to  ban single-use plastic in government buildings. This would allow us to cut down on products like plastic bags, styrofoam cups, plastic utensils, and straws and reduce plastic pollution. 

– Bridget Thompson, University of Texas co2021 and Environment Texas Intern