If it's on the ground, it's in our water

If it's on the ground, it's in our water

Discarded PPE


In addition to keeping millions of people homebound and concerned about slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the 2020 pandemic has taxed our wastewater systems and polluted our streams with unflushable tissues, wipes, gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment.

PPE discarded onto the street can even make their way through storm drains to streams and rivers after heavy rains. Over 129 billion masks are estimated to have been used globally every month of the pandemic so far. These masks have made their way to recycle bins, tangling up local sorting facilities; littering trails and sidewalks; and washing out into waterways, where they pose a threat to marine life.

National trash pickup organizations are tackling the issue with “plogging” events for local volunteers. Plogging combines the scenic exercise of jogging and trail running with the service of volunteer litter cleanup. If you don’t feel comfortable joining a group for an in-person day of service, you can still get together with friends online for a virtual plog — and keep score of items safely collected individually while out on a socially-distanced jog.

Remember: if it’s on the ground, it’s in our water!

News clipping showing gloved hands holding a removed clog of debris from the local water system
Click here for coast-to-coast accounts of the effects of PPE clogs on storm drain and sewer systems.

Everyone can play a key role in keeping our waterways clean and free of pollution through changes in behavior. Much of the pollution in our urban waterways can be linked to common lawn care practices such as applying too much fertilizer and pesticide, or not properly disposing of pet waste. Before learning how you can make a difference, here are some key definitions regarding water pollution:
  • Runoff – Runoff is stormwater that flows over impervious surfaces such as rooftops, driveways, sidewalks, streets and to some extent over residential lawns. As it flows, it picks up oils, lawn chemicals, pet waste and other pollutants along the way.
  • Storm Sewers – Unlike the sewers connected to your home’s plumbing, storm sewers take stormwater runoff directly to nearby lakes and streams, without any treatment to remove pollutants.
  • Watersheds – Everyone lives in a watershed. A watershed is an area of land that drains to a common body of water, such as a nearby creek, stream, river or lake.

Stormwater runoff is the biggest problem facing our streams, creeks and rivers today; fortunately, there are many things YOU can do to improve water quality AND save money. Watch the videos below for ways you can help keep our water clean.

Tips for Improving Water Quality

  • Landscape with native plants to increase water infiltration and decrease lawn maintenance.
  • Never discard trash or yard waste down storm drains or in the street.
  • Dispose of pet waste properly.
  • Use lawn chemicals safely. Always follow label instructions and never apply before rain or watering the lawn, unless directed.
  • Redirect downspouts to drain rain water onto lawns and gardens.
  • Wash your car at a professional car wash that filters the wastewater or wash your car in a grassy area. Do not wash cars on driveways or in the street.
  • Use rain barrels or rain gardens to conserve rain water on your property.

Learn more in KC Water Services’ “A Resident’s Reference Guide to Stormwater Management.”



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