I’ve spent 94.9% of my life in northwest Montana, but a few years ago I had an opportunity to work at an international school in the Middle East. When I moved to Oman on the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most striking cultural differences wasn’t the Arabic language or the abayas—there was a large expat population with a mix of languages and styles in which I could find familiarity.

For me, it was litter in “wild” spaces. One of our first weekends, we drove a couple hours up Jebel Shams, a remote mountain, to camp with friends. We spent a good amount of our time collecting trash in bags to haul back down the mountain. For our “Discover Oman” field trips we took students to the ocean to fill dozens of garbage bags with plastic we found along the beach.

“It’s a young country,” I was told. “The US was the same in ‘70s.” And indeed, it took marketing and education campaigns and fines to shift Americans’ attitudes about throwing things “away” by tossing them out the car window on the highway—and we still have a ways to go.

In Oman, not all the litter comes from residents either. Like any coastal society, much of it is washed ashore from other places. Living near the ocean, it’s sometimes easier to see how interconnected the planet is. Foreign trash and rising water levels driven by foreign carbon emissions appear in your neighborhood, your backyard.


But we are interconnected wherever we are. As isolated and landlocked as Montana may seem, the watershed is impacted by pollution from around the world. Aerial deposition of carbon from as far away as China lands on snow in the high country and accelerates melting. And our pollution moves downstream to affect other areas. Plastic bottles dropped in the Clark Fork River eventually become microplastic marine snow endlessly circulating in the Pacific.

According to the nonprofit Keep American Beautiful, the total amount of litter in America is down 61% since 1969. However, plastic litter has increased 165% in that time. Roadways and waterways in the US are the most common places to find litter, with slightly more along waterways. That’s true here in Montana, too.

While the most effective action we can take is to stop littering, it also helps to clean up dirty areas. About 85% of littering is the result of individuals intentionally dropping, flicking, flinging, and abandoning their garbage. And if we see litter around, we’re more likely to add our own bits of trash.

A Keep America Beautiful study in 2020 found that a strong contributing factor to littering is how much litter already exists in the environment. To counteract that effect, we can collect plastic and other litter that has been tossed, dropped, or blown across the landscape and recycle it or pile it up in a central landfill.

One way you can be a part of that is to join the Clark Fork Coalition and hundreds of volunteers for the 2022 Clark Fork River Cleanup, Thursday, April 21 through Sunday, April 24. This DIY river service event is fun, family-friendly, and helps clean up some 180 miles of riverbank in the Clark Fork basin. You can register online for your favorite section of river (or add your own) then head out to the river anytime during the four-day period to collect trash and recyclables. Garbage and recycling can be dropped off at three convenient sites around town.

The Clark Fork Coalition provides vinyl gloves and biodegradable bags or reusable five-gallon buckets for recyclable materials. Supplies can be picked up at The Clark Fork Coalition office at 140 S. 4th Street W. between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. April 18–22.

In a river town like Missoula, we get so much from the waterway that connects us. From beauty and recreation, to economic and cultural benefits, to aquatic resources, we humans benefit from what the river gives. But a healthy relationship with the river requires that the river also benefit from us. We can take care of the plants, fish, and wildlife that are part of the ecosystem by choosing where we develop, how we landscape, how much water we pull from the system for our use. And we can pick up our trash.

For more information about the 2022 Clark Fork River Cleanup or to register a team, visit clarkfork.org.





Samantha Dwyer is the Digital Content Manager for Clark Fork Coalition.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – most weeks by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. For more, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter via their homepage here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Missoula’s WINTER Farmers Market continues in Southgate Mall, Saturdays 9am to 2pm. Until April 23.

April 6. 12pm – MREA’s Exploring Energy series covers microgrids

April 6. 5:15pm –Climate Smart Missoula hosts Electrify Missoula Series part 2 – Getting off Gas: Why – and How – to Electrify our Homes and Buildings. Via Zoom.

April 7. 7:45pm at the Roxy Theater: Special screening of Spirit of the Peaks, followed by Q&A with indigenous skier Connor Ryan, to benefit UM Enviro. Law Group & Native American Law Student Assoc.

April 21 – 24 – Clark Fork Coalition’s annual River Cleanup – this year is a four-day, DIY cleanup covering over 30 miles of river. Choose the place, day, and time that works best for you.

April 22. 7pm – Project Earth, a multimedia fusion of art, science and community engagement around the climate crisis, featuring UM Music ensembles, TED-style presentations and inspiration for action. At the Dennison Theater on the UM campus. Ticketing and more details coming soon.

April 22 – 23The 53rd Kyiyo Pow Wow. At the University of Montana Adam’s Center.

April 23. 12-4pm – MUD’s Earth Day Celebration, at the MUD/HomeResource site. The festival will feature an environmental expo, activities and workshops for children and adults, and educational programs, as well as food, drinks, and local music. Details: mudproject.org/events/earth-day/

April 23. 11am-2pm –  WildWalk & Wildfest, in connection with the International Wildlife Film Festival.

April 23 – May 7 – International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula – both online and in-person!

April 28. 6:30pm – The Right to a Clean and Healthful Environment: a panel discussion with Held v. Montana youth plaintiffs, the first youth climate case to go to trial in the US. Hosted by Montana Interfaith Power and Light and Families for a Livable Climate. Via Zoom – register here.

Don’t forget – Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.