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Chesapeake Bay Foundation preps for return of annual cleanup day

People pick up trash near the James River.
People pick up trash near the James River on Tuesday. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has its annual Clean the Bay Day planned for Saturday. (Photo: Patrick Larsen/VPM News)

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is set to hold its 32nd annual Clean the Bay Day on Saturday, after two years of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Volunteers with the Maryland-based nonprofit, which has an office along East Main Street, will pick up litter at locations across the bay watershed. The group wants less garbage to find its way downstream and for it to have less of an impact on the bay's ecosystem.

The watershed covers almost two-thirds of Virginia.

It’s not hard to find trash in Richmond’s public parks and along roadways, and experts said the problem is likely worsening in Virginia. And after Memorial Day, the popular shoreline at Ancarrow’s Landing — the starting point of the Richmond Slave Trail — was littered with glass, paper and plastic.  

Gabby Troutman, the Virginia grassroots coordinator at the bay foundation, said the only place for that litter to go, if it’s not picked up, is in the water “where animals are able to eat it.” 

Then, people might eat those animals.  

Troutman referred to an analysis that showed one person could consume about a credit card’s worth of plastic each week through food, water and inhalation. 

Although the foundation said previous Clean the Bay Days have removed more than 6 million pounds of trash, there’s always more to pick up. More than half of the state drains its water into the bay, so trash has a lot of ways to enter the watershed. 

Troutman said she’s hopeful some of this weekend’s volunteers will be inspired to get involved beyond cleanups and engage with "legislators at both the local and state level to create policies that can help reduce litter.” 

A handful of Virginia localities, including Fredericksburg and Roanoke, have instituted plastic bag fees, where patrons pay 5 cents for each bag they take away from a shopping trip. Statewide, littering fines were doubled to a minimum of $500 in 2021 — though advocates said litter laws are rarely enforced. 

Richmond, Powhatan County and Colonial Heights also have clean-up events this weekend

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.