Jack’s Creek litter trap good for creek, and research

Environmental, Sound Rivers

Posted on May 5th, 2022

Sound Rivers staff and volunteers completed installation of the Jack’s Creek Trash Trout on Wednesday with the help of Spencer Roten with Asheville Greenworks, the creator of the Trash Trout. Pictured (left to right) are Roten, Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell, Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop, volunteer Christina Marshen (kneeling). Lumber Riverkeeper Jefferson Currie III, volunteers Jeffrey Barker, Carl Crozier, Roy Carlton, Mill Kram, and Sound Rivers Environmental Projects Coordinator Clay Barber.

A trash-collection device installed this week on a Washington creek is good for the environment — and research into how the breakdown of plastics impacts waterways and aquatic life.

Wednesday, Sound Rivers’ staff and a crew of volunteers anchored a Trash Trout to the banks of Jack’s Creek, just east of Market Street. The litter trap will collect trash from the creek, whose watershed drains much of the town’s stormwater after heavy rains.

The purpose is twofold: to prevent trash from flowing downstream to the Pamlico River and to gather data for “Improving Human and Ecosystem Health through Microplastic Reduction,” a research study about how plastic pollution affects the environment. Through a $188,000 state grant to Waterkeepers Carolina, 14 Riverkeepers across North Carolina are participating in the two-year-long study, including Sound Rivers’ Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell and Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop.

DRILL DOWN: Volunteer Jeffrey Barker (left) drills into the metal post that anchors the Trash Trout to the Jack’s Creek bank as Environmental Projects Coordinator Clay Barber (middle) and Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell assist.

“A lot of this project is about information or research-gathering. We know there’s a ton of plastic pollution in the environment — we see it all the time, in terms of trash in the river, macroplastics like plastic bottles and bags. This will help us understand how macroplastics break down over time and how they settle into the water and the soil,” Howell said. “They don’t go away. They break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but they don’t go away.”

Measuring less than five millimeters long, microplastics are tiny plastic pieces that can be harmful to waterways and aquatic life. As macroplastics break down into microplastics, they become an environmental and public health issue. Since they are so small, microplastics are not picked up by water filtration systems and are often eaten by fish, birds and other aquatic animals, negatively impacting the health of wildlife and, in turn, humans.

“If fish ingest microplastics, and we eat the fish, that means we’re at risk, too,” Howell said.

DELIVERY: Sound Rivers volunteers (left to right) Roy Carlton, Carl Crozier and Christina Marshen inspect the newly afloat Trash Trout.

Partnering with University of North Carolina-Wilmington’s Plastic Ocean Project and Duke Law and Policy Clinic, Waterkeepers Carolina, a coalition of North Carolina’s Riverkeepers, launched the study last year, with microplastics pollution sampling in 30 urban and rural waterways. The next step is installing Trash Trouts to collect macroplastics in those locations to better understand the sources of the microplastics found.

“The traps are a way to, one, clean up some trash, and, two, we’ll be able to look and see what kind of trash is in our waterways, what is the actual makeup of the litter and what of that is plastic,” Howell said.

With the help of City of Washington staff, Sound Rivers identified the best location to install the Trash Trout on Jack’s Creek. The device is built to withstand the rigors of flash rain events, allowing water to flow through the trap unimpeded, at the same time capturing larger pieces of trash floating downstream. Once trash is captured, it will be manually removed and “audited,” or sorted.

INTO THE DEEP: Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell shines light into the post hole dug to anchor the Trash Trout to the south bank of Jack’s Creek. She found and retrieved chunks of brick and glass impeding the digging.

“It’s useful to know what kind of trash is ending up in our waterways, so we know how to prevent it from getting in there in the first place,” Howell said.

Sound Rivers will be installing two more Trash Trouts in the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse watersheds: one on Jack Smith Creek in New Bern and another in the Walnut Creek area of Raleigh.

Howell said Sound Rivers is seeking volunteers to help with the project: those who can regularly check the Trout to see if it’s in need of a clean-out; those willing to wade into the water to pull trash out of the traps; and people to sort the resulting trash. For more information about how to volunteer, email

FLOAT-READY: Floated by pontoons on either side, the Trash Trout funnels trash into its “mouth” with booms anchored to the banks of the creek.

TRASH COLLECTOR: The Trash Trout, designed by Asheville Greenworks, is built to withstand the rigors of flash rain events, allowing water to flow through the trap unimpeded, at the same time capturing larger pieces of trash floating downstream.

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