Trash meets technology with Clark Fork River text line

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The Clark Fork River through Missoula might be running fast and deep right now, but below the muddy water linger hundreds of pounds of trash, and those with an eye on the river’s health have turned to technology to help tackle the problem.

Mobile phones, to be precise.

The Clark Fork Coalition this month unveiled its new TrashLine, making it easy for river users to report trash during the summer months. Once a report is received, members of the TrashLine team will receive a text, enabling them to take action.

Katie Racette, the coalition’s stewardship coordinator, said the hot line is just another tool to help tackle an ongoing problem.

“The most popular way will be to use the actual TrashLine – a text messaging system,” Racette said Thursday. “People can report trash they see using their phones. We’ll send out a text alert for people interested in cleanup and they can respond on the own.”

The Clark Fork Coalition and its team of volunteers pulled more than 3 tons of trash from the river during the annual cleanup in April, including 1,300 pounds of recyclables.

The cleanup happens each year, but each year “new” trash finds its way into the river. It appears as beer and soda cans, broken styrofoam coolers, cigarette butts and other castoffs.

“Trash along the river is an ongoing problem, and we need to keep the cleanup momentum going year round,” said Racette. “The trash is something we hear about all year and people are generally reporting trash to us anyway. The TrashLine empowers citizens to take action to clean up the river, and it helps target and track the most needy sections of the river.”

Each spring, the coalition hits the river with a volunteer cleanup, and while trash continues to be a perennial issue, Racette said public education may be working, as the amount of trash recovered has diminished.

In 2013, volunteers pulled six tons of trash from the river.

“One thing we have noticed as we do these cleanups, the weights we clean up have been dropping over the years,” said Racette. “If it’s a cleaner area, people won’t feel the need to throw their stuff there, or they’ll think twice about it.”

Volunteers can join the TrashLine team by texting TRASHY to 33222.2. After doing so, they’ll receive text alerts detailing the description and location of the trash.

Once the trash has been collected, volunteers can reply via text.

“We can help haul and dispose of trash if needed,” said Racette. “If people are looking for bags or gloves, they can stop by our office.