Why Would Anyone Throw Garbage in a River?

Written by Karen Hobbs, Senior Policy Analyst, NRDC Chicago

As I was explaining what NRDC’s EXPO CHICAGO booth would look like to our daughter, I mentioned that we worked with artist Gordon Matta-Clark’s estate to build a wall out of 2,000 pounds of garbage from the Illinois, Mississippi, Chicago and Ohio Rivers.

She was dumbfounded—she couldn’t figure out why anyone would throw garbage in a river, let alone enough to make a wall.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation as we mark the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act this week. How can I explain a time in this country when far more than garbage was regularly dumped into our rivers, lakes and streams?

Our daughter, who turns five in November, takes clean water for granted.  The Cuyahoga River catching fire 13 times—13 times—would sound like a fairy tale.

And it seems to me that’s an important part of the success of the Clean Water Act.  Our nation’s waters are demonstrably cleaner today than they were 40 years ago.  That means all of our children have more opportunities to fish and swim; they have cleaner and more reliable sources of drinking water.  They have the opportunity to enjoy natural areas, like Volo Bog in northern Illinois, where they can look for plants like fern fiddleheads or wildlife like muskrats and mink.

Volo Bog in northern Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources)

And those same natural areas help filter pollutants and protect our communities from flooding.

Make no mistake— much work remains to be done.  All of the goals of the Clean Water Act have not been achieved. And it is under continuous attack from lawmakers who want to weaken its provisions.

I still can’t explain why people throw garbage in a river, but I can tell my daughter what’s been accomplished in the last 40 years and what more remains to be done (not that I think she’s going to ask that anytime soon!).

This post originally appeared on NRDC Switchboard.



Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo4 years ago

This is horrendous. Why on earth would anyone throw trash on the ground or in the water? (p, t)

Ernest Roth
Ernest R4 years ago

"I still can’t explain why people throw garbage in a river" The same reason they throw it in bushes, on lawns, out the windows of their cars. Because they just don't give a damn. Because they have no respect for amyone or anything. Because it's out of sight, out of mind. For some it is the simple pleasure of annoying others to cause impotent rage. Because they are the "bad boys" that some girls find irresistable.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

exactly. why. i ask that question every time i pass garbage on the side of a road, or see trash floating in the breeze. why? something so simple. laziness? stupidity? ignorance?

Anna Sokratous
Anna Sokratous5 years ago

save the rivers! learn your childrens to love the enviroment! nature give us life!

mitchell dawes
mitchell dawes5 years ago

Reuse and recycle!

Sue H.
Sue H5 years ago

Thanks for this reminder. We need to make sure that the Clean Water Act is strongly protected and that polluters know they will be fined. I can't imagine throwing garbage in a public waterway.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener5 years ago

That's why it is soooo important to educate people about this...!

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola5 years ago

Thank you for the article.

Alexandra Rodda
Alexandra Rodda5 years ago

Why indeed? Maybe because it is "socialist" to care for one's environment, which could also benefit others - heaven forbid! The "right" thing to do then is to throw one's rubbish into the river or wherever else it will spoil our environment.

Evelyn Ball
Evelyn Ball5 years ago

Marilyn L. Valentina R. is right. Many humans are lazy and education wouldn't help them one bit because they don't care at all about anything or anyone other than themselves.