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Let's Talk Trash


Let's Talk Trash

By Chris Brokate and Betsy Van Dyke for Clean River Alliance 

Our goal is to update the community regarding the health of our watershed and the efforts of a diverse and dedicated group of volunteers committed to keeping the Russian River and its adjacent towns, cities and riverbanks clear of garbage and pollutants which are doing absolutely no good for the river, its fish, wildlife, native flora and the people who live, work and play on and around its banks.  As a bonus, whatever we remove from our immediate environment will not be washed down to our coastal beaches and will never find its way into the Pacific gyre.

A little history:  Clean River Alliance was formed in 2014 to address the problem presented by the accumulation of trash on the banks of our beloved river.  Since then, tons of tires, appliances, plastic bags, soggy rug remnants, toys, beer cans, plastic bottles, sleeping bags, cigarette butts, candy wrappers, mattresses, soiled diapers, picnic leftovers, camping gear - Y’know, we could list it all but won’t! – have been removed from our watershed.

Last fall, after long-awaited rains began and the river rose, we organized cleanups of campsites that had been abandoned by our shelter-less neighbors.  While many had found respite and safety along the banks of the river in kinder weather, they were forced to move to higher ground leaving an immense amount of sodden refuse behind.  

This year alone, over 500 CRA volunteers have spent more than 1600 hours picking up and disposing of an estimated 96,410 pounds of abandoned or discarded detritus.  That’s more than a few dumpsters! 

In the course of our efforts, we have sought to engage and empower the houseless people we have encountered to be more mindful of the environment we all share.  (We are, indeed, ALL responsible for the stewardship of our precious ecosystem.)      

Vet Connect: In January, we began participating in the Vet Connect Clean Day Project.  For those who are unaware, this program provides showers, clean clothes and sometimes a haircut to homeless people in our community every Thursday morning at the Guerneville Vet’s Hall.  There are also providers from West County Health Centers, West County Community Services and other local organizations present and available to provide direct referrals to health, mental health, rehab and social services for those seeking the same.  

What CRA does on Thursday morning, in addition to providing scrumptious cookies, is to hand out industrial-strength orange trash bags to campers so that they can take them back home and fill them up for later pick-up by our volunteers.

One totally amazing side-effect of our efforts, is that many we have encountered and engaged have become themselves community volunteers – not just cleaning up their own campsites, but reaching out to their neighbors, and to other friends and acquaintances, thus extending our educational outreach and effort beyond our organization’s capacity.  Since the onset of our involvement in the Thursday morning program, Clean River Alliance , aka The Garbage Patch Kids, have spent almost 80 hours removing 26,910 pounds of trash that has been collected by our house-less neighbors and staged for us at pre-planned pick-up sites.  Think how many undocumented hours of work have been done by the folks who bagged and prepped this haul so that we could easily gather it and get it into the landfill!  And more than a few of these same people regularly join us for our Monday afternoon Guerneville Town Cleanup (4 to 6 PM every Monday).

West County Health Centers Homeless Healthcare Program is one community partner who whole-heartedly supports our work. Jed Heibel, West County Health Centers Homeless Services Manager, says, “At first glance, Clean River Alliance’s work is primarily environmental. But the community impact goes much deeper than that. The supportive, educational and inclusive approach Chris has designed to work with the homeless is remarkably innovative. 

Rather than viewing people experiencing homelessness as the cause of a problem, in this case environmental pollution along the riverbank, Chris has dug deeper to find a way to engage the homeless in the solution. He understands that the homeless themselves don’t want to create environmental issues, but don’t have the resources necessary to manage their waste. With that knowledge, Chris created a system that empowers those without homes to be part of the solution. By engaging them as partners, Chris has instilled a sense of dignity and community engagement so often lost to those living in the margins of society.”

Without the fiscal sponsorship and support of Russian Riverkeeper many of these accomplishments wouldn’t have been able to happen.   While this project remains primarily un-funded, we appreciate the continued support of the County of Sonoma which has provided heavy-duty orange trash bags and dumpster fees since January 1st, 2016.

Please join us and Russian Riverkeeper and many organizations on September 17th for the 27th Annual Russian River Watershed Clean-up.  You can pick your favorite beach or riverbank or trail from Ukiah to Jenner.  We will find you a team to work with.

Give us a call at 707-322-8304 or visit our website at or like us on Facebook.  

We are always happy to talk trash!