HANNIBAL — Members of the Hannibal High School Environment Club made a recent return to the Hannibal riverfront area as they continued efforts to remove and tabulate trash for the Mississippi River Plastic Pollution Initiative.

Andrea Campbell, utility resource coordinator with Hannibal Board of Public Works, accompanied the students led by Quintin Heaton, Missouri Science and Physical Science teacher. The group made their way from the Y’Men’s Pavilion on Hill Street along the riverfront and the levee, picking up 875 items of litter in about 1 1/2 hours. Heaton has worked with Campbell and HBPW for several years. The Environment Club began in 2020, and the students first started using the data tracker during a cleanup event with Campbell and the Hannibal Rotary Club.

“I am very impressed by the passion the club members have for their environment, both locally and globally. They are a very motivated group of kids that want to make a difference and really get involved in any way they can,” Heaton said. “Many of the projects we have done are from their ideas. It makes me proud to see the work they have put into helping their environment. They have accomplished so much for such a new club.”

Campbell stressed how everyday items like masks, plastic bags and paper coffee cups can end up in the environment and waterways like the Mississippi River if not properly disposed of or recycled.

As of April 23, 35,408 items of trash had been collected throughout the entire Mississippi River basin since April 1. The river provides 40% of the nation’s drainage, as well as drinking water for communities like Hannibal. With its connection to the ocean, pollution which enters the river ends up in the oceans.

“The amount of plastic pollution far exceeds the capacity of researchers to collect data on what is ending up in the environment, which is critical for informing both science and solutions,” Campbell said, pointing out the trash picked up on April 19 had mostly accumulated during the past few days. “That’s where community science comes in. Involving local communities in gathering data on what kinds of litter in their communities helps us create a bigger picture of the global plastic pollution problem — one piece of plastic at a time.”

Some club members couldn’t make it to the community event, so the students decided to return to collect litter and tabulate their findings through the mobile app. The students were excited for the chance to make a positive difference, and junior Brent Allen commented about how seemingly small gestures add up to make a big difference.

“It feels good knowing that I get to help the environment and help investigate how some of the biggest impacts on the environment can come from some of the smallest pieces of plastic, like what we gathered when we were picking up all of those used cigarettes,” he said.

Junior Sam Hirner is club president, and he stressed how the work extends beyond the community.

“It’s tremendously encouraging to actually be making a difference, both in my town and, on a much bigger scale, in the efforts to tackle this issue nationwide,” he said.

Senior Alexia Gonzalez was excited about the impact she and fellow club members made, along with the chance to inspire others in the community to chip in.

“It feels great to be able to make a positive impact on the environment. Just to be called ‘citizen scientist’ is pretty cool because we are just a group of high schoolers who want to make this world a cleaner place,” she said. “I think that shows anyone who has a desire to make a difference can make a difference.”

Gonzalez said it is important to convey the amount of litter to fellow community members through awareness and education.

“I know there are many citizens in Hannibal that would be disgusted by those numbers; and if they knew how much litter we are leaving in our parks, streets and yards, then they would raise their voices. I do not have the answer to fix the problem, but raising the awareness of the litter we have might lead to changing habits,” she said.

And Hirner urged everyone to remember the simple rule taught from childhood, saying “my mom wouldn’t let me leave those on the floor of my room, so don’t leave them lying around on our planet.”

Students in the HHS Environmental Club all share the same goal, and they are looking forward to expanding their reach in the future.

“The Environmental Club is passionate about the issue of water bound waste, as we are many others. It almost goes without saying that we would love to continue to participate in the annual spring cleanup,” Hirner said. “There are some other projects we’re looking into in regards to this kind of pollution. Hopefully you’ll hear about those as they come to fruition.”

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