Detroit’s Belle Isle Park has been existence since the late 1800’s and has become a staple in the Metro- Detroit area for tourism. The park has been through much, having different owners throughout the years and even experienced bankruptcy in the more recent years. Now, the park has changed ownership from the City of Detroit to the State of Michigan, becoming a public state park. Michigan is one out of ten states that currently does not have an anti-littering campaign and is the largest populate state without a campaign. In effort to enforce more rigorous practices when it comes to anti-littering, Belle Isle Conservancy, a non profit that oversees park affairs, has created the “Keep Belle Isle Beautiful” campaign. The goal of the campaign is to create awareness and understanding of how litter effects the park and ultimately the waterways that surround our beautiful state.
The average human produces 4.4 pounds of garbage each day and between 10 and 20 million tons of plastic debris end up in our waterways each year. The park is home to a number of animals such as owls, white tail deer, turtles, geese, coyote, Killdeer and Piping Plovers. Since the island is surround by water, aquatic life is also recognized in the campaign. Litter that affects the animals and water streams are gum, plastic, food scraps, beach toys, cigarettes, and abandoned cars. Gum is one of the most littered items next to cigarette butts. Gum does not break down and cost fifty times the price of gum to remove it from pavement. One plastic bottle can take up to 450 million years to decompose. Plastic litter is the most harmful to wildlife because when it breaks down, it is then eaten by birds, fish, and other animals. Therefore, if humans consume local fish they are also eating plastic. Plastic also equates to $435 million worth of recyclable material that ends up in landfills each year. Food scraps seems like a harmful item to toss but it can take months to breakdown and attract unwanted bugs, pests, and smells. Food scraps can also increase algal blooms in water, which reduces the amount of available oxygen for other aquatic life such as fish.
During high season at Belle Isle Park, usually June through August, an average of 800,000 visitors visit the park. Belle Isle Park spends about $2,136 a day in staff cost during those peak days picking up litter. Annual cost spent on picking up park user’s litter is about $536,154. Staff resources are wasted on picking up litter instead of focusing on park projects and maintenance. Belle Isle Park in partnership with the Belle Isle Conservancy, soft launched “Keep Belle Isle Beautiful” in 2017 in efforts to reduce wasted resources and impact the ecosystem of not only the wildlife but local community. The park purchased an access amount of trash barrels and created a brand to tag on posters and media related material. The hope of the campaign is to spread throughout the Michigan State Parks system, as well as, the entire state by challenging the citizens to become involved and prideful of their environment.
In 2018, the campaign piloted its first data collection by weighing bags of litter that were being pulled from the canals by volunteers. Altogether, there was over 2200 pounds of litter collected from the water ways over the course of the summer. Fast forwarding to 2019, the project was enhanced by developing a more quality way of collecting data. It was apparent that the previous method was inflating numbers due to the litter being weighed down by wet material. The new method will allow volunteers to sort litter in categories and then weigh them. This method is allowing the BIC to see how much of specific materials is being collected.