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Trash is a major contributor to poor water quality and degraded habitat in Baltimore Harbor. It carried harmful material and pollutants into our waterways and detracts from the aesthetics for area residents, employees and visitors; and it is perceived by the public to be the major pollution issue in the harbor.
Trash gets delivered to the Harbor when rainfall or storms result in water flowing down our streets, sending debris filled water down our storm drains through the massive system of underground storm drains that have their outfalls in our streams and Harbor. The wind and rain carry trash into streams and the Harbor, bringing with it the visual pollution of floating debris as well as associated pollutants that cling to or are part of the trash. Like the proverbial message in the bottle, the trash that finds its way into the Harbor may have originated many miles upstream, from a lidless trash can, or litter from a fast food store, or a cluttered back alley, or a careless driver tossing butts and bottles from the car. Styrofoam, plastic bags, cans and bottles, lawn debris, food wrappers, pet waste – are the most common visible floating debris it in the Harbor.
The Harbor is so polluted with trash that the Maryland Department of the Environment has announced its intention to write a TMDL for trash in the Harbor (see the Regulatory Toolkit for TMDL description). Two other cities already have trash TMDLs- Los Angeles and Washington, DC. Both of these cities have taken major steps to measure and abate the amount of trash reaching their waterways. They offer useful examples and lessons for Baltimore as we attempt to remove trash from our streams and Harbor.
The Healthy Harbor plan lays out a number of trash reduction strategies. These include a public awareness campaign, legislation on bags and bottles, a trash survey, increasing green infrastructure, installation of engineered storm drain practices to capture trash in storm drains and at outfalls.